Fine Tunes Gene Expression by Supplying and Removing Electrons is a new method

Fine Tunes Gene Expression by Supplying and Removing Electrons is a new method ...

Researchers have developed a better way to turn genes on and off using electrical signals.

Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a new method that allows gene expression to be altered precisely by providing and removing electrons.

This may help keep biomedical implants in the body or the reactions in large bioreactors that produce drugs and other useful compounds. Current stimuli used to initiate such reactions are often unable to penetrate materials or pose a risk of contamination. Elefence is the solution for biomedical implants in the body.

Gene expression is the process by which genes are activated to produce new molecules and other downstream effects in cells. It is regulated in organisms by different areas of the DNA called promoters. Various stimuli, such as light, chemicals, and temperature, may be able to respond to these stimuli.

Using electricity to control gene expression has opened a new field of research, which while such electrogenetic systems have previously been identified, have limited precision during the presence or absence of electrical signals, thus prohibiting their applications. The newly proposed system, which has diversified promoters, permits such accuracy for the first time by using electrical stimulus in bacteria.

The research is now available on Science Advances.

Flick of a switch

In synthetic biology, a major problem is that we cannot control biological systems in the way we control artificial ones. If we want a cell to produce a specific chemical at a certain time we cannot simply modify a setting on a computer we must add a chemical or modify the light conditions.

The tools we have developed as part of this project will allow researchers to control gene expression and behavior of cells with electrical signals rather than physical changes.

We hope that by further transforming these techniques, we will be capable of controlling biological systems with a flick of a switch.

In this study, the PsoxS promoter was reimagined to respond more strongly to electrical stimuli, provided by the delivery of electrons. The newly engineered PsoxS promoters were able not only to activate gene expression but also to suppress it.

So far, electrically stimulated gene expression has been difficult to use in oxygen, limiting its use in real-life applications. In the presence of oxygen, the new technique is viable, allowing it to be replicated across a variety of bacteria and used in many applications, such as medical implants and bioindustrial processes.

Over a variation in electrode potential, electron chemicals can be adjusted for several tasks.

Glowing bacteria

Biomedical implants are often used as a trigger to produce a certain medication or hormone in the body. Not all stimuli are appropriate; light is unable to penetrate the human body and chemical ingestion can lead to toxicity. Electric stimuli can be administered via electrodes, giving direct and safe delivery.

Large bioreactors (sometimes the size of a building) that produce chemicals, drugs, or energy sources can help to penetrate the vast expanse of space with light and expensive to feed with chemical inducers, thus the delivery of electrons provides a solution.

For a proof-of-concept study, researchers calculated the glowing protein from jellyfish and used the new promoter and electrons to induce its expression in bacteria, making the cells glow only when the system was on. In a different configuration of the system, researchers created a bacteria that was glowing when the system was off and stopped glowing when the system was on.

In a synthetic biologystudent competition, Dr Rodrigo Ledesma Amaro, lecturer at Imperial College London, and lead of theRLAlab research groupsaid.

Thanks to a lot of effort, dedication and teamwork, that initial idea became reality, and we now have a variety of new technologies to control the fate of cells.

Building a library

The team is planning to develop different promoters that will function to infiltrate different downstream factors, ensuring that simultaneous electrical signals can express different genes, independent of one another. The current system can be adapted for yeast, plants, and animals.

Dr Ledesma-Amaro, from Imperial''s Bioengineering Division, was responsible for the results of Joshua Lawrence, currently at the University of Cambridge and Yutong Yin, and currently at the University of Oxford.

The study is the result of a greater collaboration of experts from the Imperial College Translation & Innovation Hub, Cambridge University and the University of Milan.

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