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Biosens Bioelectron. 2013 Feb 15;40(1):368-76. doi: 10.1016/j.bios.2012.08.011. Epub 2012 Aug 23.

A modular cell-based biosensor using engineered genetic logic circuits to detect and integrate multiple environmental signals.

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Department of Mathematics, 6M50 Huxley Building, Imperial College London, London, SW7 2AZ, UK.


Cells perceive a wide variety of cellular and environmental signals, which are often processed combinatorially to generate particular phenotypic responses. Here, we employ both single and mixed cell type populations, pre-programmed with engineered modular cell signalling and sensing circuits, as processing units to detect and integrate multiple environmental signals. Based on an engineered modular genetic AND logic gate, we report the construction of a set of scalable synthetic microbe-based biosensors comprising exchangeable sensory, signal processing and actuation modules. These cellular biosensors were engineered using distinct signalling sensory modules to precisely identify various chemical signals, and combinations thereof, with a quantitative fluorescent output. The genetic logic gate used can function as a biological filter and an amplifier to enhance the sensing selectivity and sensitivity of cell-based biosensors. In particular, an Escherichia coli consortium-based biosensor has been constructed that can detect and integrate three environmental signals (arsenic, mercury and copper ion levels) via either its native two-component signal transduction pathways or synthetic signalling sensors derived from other bacteria in combination with a cell-cell communication module. We demonstrate how a modular cell-based biosensor can be engineered predictably using exchangeable synthetic gene circuit modules to sense and integrate multiple-input signals. This study illustrates some of the key practical design principles required for the future application of these biosensors in broad environmental and healthcare areas.

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