Phosphatase activity tunes two-component system sensor detection threshold
Landry, Brian P.; Palanki, Rohan; Dyulgyarov, Nikola; Hartsough, Lucas A.; Tabor, Jeffrey J.
Two-component systems (TCSs) are the largest family of multi-step signal transduction pathways in biology, and a major source of sensors for biotechnology. However, the input concentrations to which biosensors respond are often mismatched with application requirements. Here, we utilize a mathematical model to show that TCS detection thresholds increase with the phosphatase activity of the sensor histidine kinase. We experimentally validate this result in engineered Bacillus subtilis nitrate and E. coli aspartate TCS sensors by tuning their detection threshold up to two orders of magnitude. We go on to apply our TCS tuning method to recently described tetrathionate and thiosulfate sensors by mutating a widely conserved residue previously shown to impact phosphatase activity. Finally, we apply TCS tuning to engineer B. subtilis to sense and report a wide range of fertilizer concentrations in soil. This work will enable the engineering of tailor-made biosensors for diverse synthetic biology applications.