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J Biol Eng. 2011 Jun 7;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1754-1611-5-8.

Characterization of a synthetic bacterial self-destruction device for programmed cell death and for recombinant proteins release.

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Dipartimento di Informatica e Sistemistica, Università degli Studi di Pavia, via Ferrata 1, Pavia, Italy.



Bacterial cell lysis is a widely studied mechanism that can be achieved through the intracellular expression of phage native lytic proteins. This mechanism can be exploited for programmed cell death and for gentle cell disruption to release recombinant proteins when in vivo secretion is not feasible. Several genetic parts for cell lysis have been developed and their quantitative characterization is an essential step to enable the engineering of synthetic lytic systems with predictable behavior.


Here, a BioBrick™ lysis device present in the Registry of Standard Biological Parts has been quantitatively characterized. Its activity has been measured in E. coli by assembling the device under the control of a well characterized N-3-oxohexanoyl-L-homoserine lactone (HSL) -inducible promoter and the transfer function, lysis dynamics, protein release capability and genotypic and phenotypic stability of the device have been evaluated. Finally, its modularity was tested by assembling the device to a different inducible promoter, which can be triggered by heat induction.


The studied device is suitable for recombinant protein release as 96% of the total amount of the intracellular proteins was successfully released into the medium. Furthermore, it has been shown that the device can be assembled to different input devices to trigger cell lysis in response to a user-defined signal. For this reason, this lysis device can be a useful tool for the rational design and construction of complex synthetic biological systems composed by biological parts with known and well characterized function. Conversely, the onset of mutants makes this device unsuitable for the programmed cell death of a bacterial population.

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