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ACS Synth Biol. 2016 Sep 16;5(9):969-77. doi: 10.1021/acssynbio.5b00286. Epub 2016 May 19.

Quorum Sensing Communication Modules for Microbial Consortia.

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Department of Bioengineering, ‡Molecular Biology Section, Division of Biological Science, and ¶BioCircuits Institute, University of California , San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, United States.


The power of a single engineered organism is limited by its capacity for genetic modification. To circumvent the constraints of any singular microbe, a new frontier in synthetic biology is emerging: synthetic ecology, or the engineering of microbial consortia. Here we develop communication systems for such consortia in an effort to allow for complex social behavior across different members of a community. We posit that such communities will outpace monocultures in their ability to perform complicated tasks if communication among and between members of the community is well regulated. Quorum sensing was identified as the most promising candidate for precise control of engineered microbial ecosystems, due to its large diversity and established utility in synthetic biology. Through promoter and protein modification, we engineered two quorum sensing systems (rpa and tra) to add to the extensively used lux and las systems. By testing the cross-talk between all systems, we thoroughly characterized many new inducible systems for versatile control of engineered communities. Furthermore, we've identified several system pairs that exhibit useful types of orthogonality. Most notably, the tra and rpa systems were shown to have neither signal crosstalk nor promoter crosstalk for each other, making them completely orthogonal in operation. Overall, by characterizing the interactions between all four systems and their components, these circuits should lend themselves to higher-level genetic circuitry for use in microbial consortia.


crosstalk; microbial consortia; orthogonal; quorum sensing; synthetic ecology

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