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Microbiology. 2013 Jul;159(Pt 7):1276-85. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.066324-0. Epub 2013 May 23.

A single phosphatase can convert a robust step response into a graded, tunable or adaptive response.

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  • 1Oxford Centre for Integrative Systems Biology, Department of Biochemistry, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QU, UK.


Many biological signalling pathways have evolved to produce responses to environmental signals that are robust to fluctuations in protein copy number and noise. Whilst beneficial for biology, this robustness can be problematic for synthetic biologists wishing to re-engineer and subsequently tune the response of a given system. Here we show that the well-characterized EnvZ/OmpR two-component signalling system from Escherichia coli possesses one such robust step response. However, the synthetic addition of just a single component into the system, an extra independently controllable phosphatase, can change this behaviour to become graded and tunable, and even show adaptation. Our approach introduces a new design principle which can be implemented simply in engineering and redesigning fast signal transduction pathways for synthetic biology.

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