Refactoring and Optimization of Light-Switchable Escherichia coli Two-Component Systems
Schmidl, Sebastian R.; Sheth, Ravi U.; Wu, Andrew; Tabor, Jeffrey J.
Light-switchable proteins enable unparalleled control of molecular biological processes in live organisms. Previously, we have engineered red/far-red and green/red photoreversible two-component signal transduction systems (TCSs) with transcriptional outputs in E. coli and used them to characterize and control synthetic gene circuits with exceptional quantitative, temporal, and spatial precision. However, the broad utility of these light sensors is limited by bulky DNA encoding, incompatibility with commonly used ligand-responsive transcription factors, leaky output in deactivating light, and less than 10-fold dynamic range. Here, we compress the four genes required for each TCS onto two streamlined plasmids and replace all chemically inducible and evolved promoters with constitutive, engineered versions. Additionally, we systematically optimize the expression of each sensor histidine kinase and response regulator, and redesign both pathway output promoters, resulting in low leakiness and 72- and 117-fold dynamic range, respectively. These second-generation light sensors can be used to program the expression of more genes over a wider range and can be more easily combined with additional plasmids or moved to different host strains. This work demonstrates that bacterial TCSs can be optimized to function as high-performance sensors for scientific and engineering applications.