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ACS Synth Biol. 2017 Nov 17;6(11):2067-2076. doi: 10.1021/acssynbio.7b00108. Epub 2017 Sep 1.

A Small-Molecule Inducible Synthetic Circuit for Control of the SOS Gene Network without DNA Damage.

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Department of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States.
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States.


The bacterial SOS stress-response pathway is a pro-mutagenic DNA repair system that mediates bacterial survival and adaptation to genotoxic stressors, including antibiotics and UV light. The SOS pathway is composed of a network of genes under the control of the transcriptional repressor, LexA. Activation of the pathway involves linked but distinct events: an initial DNA damage event leads to activation of RecA, which promotes autoproteolysis of LexA, abrogating its repressor function and leading to induction of the SOS gene network. These linked events can each independently contribute to DNA repair and mutagenesis, making it difficult to separate the contributions of the different events to observed phenotypes. We therefore devised a novel synthetic circuit to unlink these events and permit induction of the SOS gene network in the absence of DNA damage or RecA activation via orthogonal cleavage of LexA. Strains engineered with the synthetic SOS circuit demonstrate small-molecule inducible expression of SOS genes as well as the associated resistance to UV light. Exploiting our ability to activate SOS genes independently of upstream events, we further demonstrate that the majority of SOS-mediated mutagenesis on the chromosome does not readily occur with orthogonal pathway induction alone, but instead requires DNA damage. More generally, our approach provides an exemplar for using synthetic circuit design to separate an environmental stressor from its associated stress-response pathway.


DNA repair; LexA; SOS pathway; mutagenesis; stress response pathways

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