Publications about 'synthetic biology' |
Articles in journal or book chapters |
Biological systems have been widely studied as complex dynamic systems that evolve with time in response to the internal resources abundance and external perturbations due to their common features. Integration of systems and synthetic biology provides a consolidated framework that draws system-level connections among biology, mathematics, engineering, and computer sciences. One major problem in current synthetic biology research is designing and controlling the synthetic circuits to perform reliable and robust behaviors as they utilize common transcription and translational resources among the circuits and host cells. While cellular resources are often limited, this results in a competition for resources by different genes and circuits, which affect the behaviors of synthetic genetic circuits. The manner competition impacts behavior depends on the “bottleneck” resource. With knowledge of physics laws and underlying mechanisms, the dynamical behaviors of the synthetic circuits can be described by the first principle models, usually represented by a system of ordinary differential equations (ODEs). In this work, we develop the novel embedded PINN (ePINN), which is composed of two nested loss-sharing neural networks to target and improve the unknown dynamics prediction from quantitative time series data. We apply the ePINN approach to identify the mathematical structures of competition phenotypes. Firstly, we use the PINNs approach to infer the model parameters and hidden dynamics from partially known data (including a lack of understanding of the reaction mechanisms or missing experimental data). Secondly, we test how well the algorithms can distinguish and extract the unknown dynamics from noisy data. Thirdly, we study how the synthetic and competing circuits behave in various cases when different particles become a limited resource. |
Differentiation within multicellular organisms is a complex process that helps to establish spatial patterning and tissue formation within the body. Often, the differentiation of cells is governed by morphogens and intercellular signaling molecules that guide the fate of each cell, frequently using toggle-like regulatory components. Synthetic biologists have long sought to recapitulate patterned differentiation with engineered cellular communities and various methods for differentiating bacteria have been invented. Here, we couple a synthetic co-repressive toggle switch with intercellular signaling pathways to create a "quorum-sensing toggle." We show that this circuit not only exhibits population-wide bistability in a well-mixed liquid environment, but also generates patterns of differentiation in colonies grown on agar containing an externally supplied morphogen. |
Synthetic gene circuits require cellular resources, which are often limited. This leads to competition for resources by different genes, which alter a synthetic genetic circuit's behavior. However, the manner in which competition impacts behavior depends on the identity of the "bottleneck" resource which might be difficult to discern from input-output data. In this paper, we aim at classifying the mathematical structures of resource competition in biochemical circuits. We find that some competition structures can be distinguished by their response to different competitors or resource levels. Specifically, we show that some response curves are always linear, convex, or concave. Furthermore, high levels of certain resources protect the behavior from low competition, while others do not. We also show that competition phenotypes respond differently to various interventions. Such differences can be used to eliminate candidate competition mechanisms when constructing models based on given data. On the other hand, we show that different networks can display mathematically equivalent competition phenotypes. |
A design for genetically-encoded counters is proposed via repressor-based circuits. An N-bit counter reads sequences of input pulses and displays the total number of pulses, modulo $2^N$. The design is based on distributed computation, with specialized cell types allocated to specific tasks. This allows scalability and bypasses constraints on the maximal number of circuit genes per cell due to toxicity or failures due to resource limitations. The design starts with a single-bit counter. The N-bit counter is then obtained by interconnecting (using diffusible chemicals) a set of N single-bit counters and connector modules. An optimization framework is used to determine appropriate gate parameters and to compute bounds on admissible pulse widths and relaxation (inter-pulse) times, as well as to guide the construction of novel gates. This work can be viewed as a step toward obtaining circuits that are capable of finite-automaton computation, in analogy to digital central processing units. |
Minimal synthesis of Boolean functions is an NP-hard problem, and heuristic approaches typically give suboptimal circuits. However, in the emergent field of synthetic biology, genetic logic designs that use even a single additional Boolean gate can render a circuit unimplementable in a cell. This has led to a renewed interest in the field of optimal multilevel Boolean synthesis. For small numbers (1-4) of inputs, an exhaustive search is possible, but this is impractical for large circuits. In this work, we demonstrate that even though it is challenging to build a database of optimal implementations for anything larger than 4-input Boolean functions, a database of 4-input optimal implementations can be used to greatly reduce the number of logical gates required in larger heuristic logic synthesis implementations. The proposed algorithm combines the heuristic results with an optimal implementation database and yields average improvements of 5.16% for 5-input circuits and 4.54% for 6-input circuits on outputs provided by the logic synthesis tool extit{ABC}. In addition to the gains in the efficiency of the implemented circuits, this work also attests to the importance and practicality of the field of optimal synthesis, even if it cannot directly provide results for larger circuits. The focus of this work is on circuits made exclusively of 2-input NOR gates but the presented results are readily applicable to 2-input NAND circuits as well as (2-input) AND/NOT circuits. In addition, the framework proposed here is likely to be adaptable to other types of circuits. An implementation of the described algorithm, HLM (Hybrid Logic Minimizer), is available at https://github.com/sontaglab/HLM/. |
An important goal of synthetic biology is to build biosensors and circuits with well-defined input-output relationships that operate at speeds found in natural biological systems. However, for molecular computation, most commonly used genetic circuit elements typically involve several steps from input detection to output signal production: transcription, translation, and post-translational modifications. These multiple steps together require up to several hours to respond to a single stimulus, and this limits the overall speed and complexity of genetic circuits. To address this gap, molecular frameworks that rely exclusively on post-translational steps to realize reaction networks that can process inputs at a time scale of seconds to minutes have been proposed. Here, we build mathematical models of fast biosensors capable of producing Boolean logic functionality. We employ protease-based chemical and light-induced switches, investigate their operation, and provide selection guidelines for their use as on-off switches. As a proof of concept, we implement a rapamycin-induced switch in vitro and demonstrate that its response qualitatively agrees with the predictions from our models. We then use these switches as elementary blocks, developing models for biosensors that can perform OR and XOR Boolean logic computation while using reaction conditions as tuning parameters. We use sensitivity analysis to determine the time-dependent sensitivity of the output to proteolytic and protein-protein binding reaction parameters. These fast protease-based biosensors can be used to implement complex molecular circuits with a capability of processing multiple inputs controllably and algorithmically. Our framework for evaluating and optimizing circuit performance can be applied to other molecular logic circuits. |
Starting in the early 2000s, sophisticated technologies have been developed for the rational construction of synthetic genetic networks that implement specified logical functionalities. Despite impressive progress, however, the scaling necessary in order to achieve greater computational power has been hampered by many constraints, including repressor toxicity and the lack of large sets of mutually-orthogonal repressors. As a consequence, a typical circuit contains no more than roughly seven repressor-based gates per cell. A possible way around this scalability problem is to distribute the computation among multiple cell types, which communicate among themselves using diffusible small molecules (DSMs) and each of which implements a small sub-circuit. Examples of DSMs are those employed by quorum sensing systems in bacteria. This paper focuses on systematic ways to implement this distributed approach, in the context of the evaluation of arbitrary Boolean functions. The unique characteristics of genetic circuits and the properties of DSMs require the development of new Boolean synthesis methods, distinct from those classically used in electronic circuit design. In this work, we propose a fast algorithm to synthesize distributed realizations for any Boolean function, under constraints on the number of gates per cell and the number of orthogonal DSMs. The method is based on an exact synthesis algorithm to find the minimal circuit per cell, which in turn allows us to build an extensive database of Boolean functions up to a given number of inputs. For concreteness, we will specifically focus on circuits of up to 4 inputs, which might represent, for example, two chemical inducers and two light inputs at different frequencies. Our method shows that, with a constraint of no more than seven gates per cell, the use of a single DSM increases the total number of realizable circuits by at least 7.58-fold compared to centralized computation. Moreover, when allowing two DSM's, one can realize 99.995\% of all possible 4-input Boolean functions, still with at most 7 gates per cell. The methodology introduced here can be readily adapted to complement recent genetic circuit design automation software. |
Synthetic biology constructs often rely upon the introduction of "circuit" genes into host cells, in order to express novel proteins and thus endow the host with a desired behavior. The expression of these new genes "consumes" existing resources in the cell, such as ATP, RNA polymerase, amino acids, and ribosomes. Ribosomal competition among strands of mRNA may be described by a system of nonlinear ODEs called the Ribosomal Flow Model (RFM). The competition for resources between host and circuit genes can be ameliorated by splitting the ribosome pool by use of orthogonal ribosomes, where the circuit genes are exclusively translated by mutated ribosomes. In this work, the RFM system is extended to include orthogonal ribosome competition. This Orthogonal Ribosomal Flow Model (ORFM) is proven to be stable through the use of Robust Lyapunov Functions. The optimization problem of maximizing the weighted protein translation rate by adjusting allocation of ribosomal species is formulated and implemented. Note: publsihed Nov 2020, even though journal reprint says "Nov 2021". |
Cells respond to biochemical and physical internal as well as external signals. These signals can be broadly classified into two categories: (a) ``actionable'' or ``reference'' inputs that should elicit appropriate biological or physical responses such as gene expression or motility, and (b) ``disturbances'' or ``perturbations'' that should be ignored or actively filtered-out. These disturbances might be exogenous, such as binding of nonspecific ligands, or endogenous, such as variations in enzyme concentrations or gene copy numbers. In this context, the term robustness describes the capability to produce appropriate responses to reference inputs while at the same time being insensitive to disturbances. These two objectives often conflict with each other and require delicate design trade-offs. Indeed, natural biological systems use complicated and still poorly understood control strategies in order to finely balance the goals of responsiveness and robustness. A better understanding of such natural strategies remains an important scientific goal in itself and will play a role in the construction of synthetic circuits for therapeutic and biosensing applications. A prototype problem in robustly responding to inputs is that of ``robust tracking'', defined by the requirement that some designated internal quantity (for example, the level of expression of a reporter protein) should faithfully follow an input signal while being insensitive to an appropriate class of perturbations. Control theory predicts that a certain type of motif, called integral feedback, will help achieve this goal, and this motif is, in fact, a necessary feature of any system that exhibits robust tracking. Indeed, integral feedback has always been a key component of electrical and mechanical control systems, at least since the 18th century when James Watt employed the centrifugal governor to regulate steam engines. Motivated by this knowledge, biological engineers have proposed various designs for biomolecular integral feedback control mechanisms. However, practical and quantitatively predictable implementations have proved challenging, in part due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate models of transcription, translation, and resource competition in living cells, and the stochasticity inherent in cellular reactions. These challenges prevent first-principles rational design and parameter optimization. In this work, we exploit the versatility of an Escherichia coli cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) to accurately design, model and then build, a synthetic biomolecular integral controller that precisely controls the expression of a target gene. To our knowledge, this is the first design of a functioning gene network that achieves the goal of making gene expression track an externally imposed reference level, achieves this goal even in the presence of disturbances, and whose performance quantitatively agrees with mathematical predictions. |
The study of stochastic biomolecular networks is a key part of systems biology, as such networks play a central role in engineered synthetic biology constructs as well as in naturally occurring cells. This expository paper reviews in a unified way a pair of recent approaches to the finite computation of statistics for chemical reaction networks. |
This paper is a review of systems and control problems in synthetic biology, focusing on past accomplishments and open problems. It is partially a report on the workshop "The Compositionality Problem in Synthetic Biology: New Directions for Control Theory" held on June 26-27, 2017 at MIT, and organized by D. Del Vecchio, R. M. Murray, and E. D. Sontag |
This paper deals with the design of promoters that maintain constant levels of expression, whether they are carried at single copy in the genome or on high-copy plasmids. The design is based on an incoherent feedforward loop (iFFL) with a perfectly non-cooperative repression. The circuits are implemented in E. coli using Transcription Activator Like Effectors (TALEs). The resulting stabilized promoters generate near identical expression across different genome locations and plasmid backbones (pSC101, p15a, ColE1, pUC), and also provide robustness to strain mutations and growth media. Further, their strength is tunable and can be used to maintain constant ratios between proteins. |
Utilizing the synthetic transcription-translation (TX-TL) system, this paper studies the impact of nucleotide triphosphates (NTPs) and magnesium (Mg2+), on gene expression, in the context of the counterintuitive phenomenon of suppression of gene expression at high NTP concentration. Measuring translation rates for different Mg2+ and NTP concentrations, we observe a complex resource dependence. We demonstrate that translation is the rate-limiting process that is directly inhibited by high NTP concentrations. Additional Mg2+ can partially reverse this inhibition. In several experiments, we observe two maxima of the translation rate viewed as a function of both Mg2+ and NTP concentration, which can be explained in terms of an NTP-independent effect on the ribosome complex and an NTP- Mg2+ titration effect. The non-trivial compensatory effects of abundance of different vital resources signals the presence of complex regulatory mechanisms to achieve optimal gene expression. |
Reverse engineering of biological pathways involves an iterative process between experiments, data processing, and theoretical analysis. In this work, we engineer synthetic circuits, subject them to perturbations, and then infer network connections using a combination of nonparametric single-cell data resampling and modular response analysis. Intriguingly, we discover that recovered weights of specific network edges undergo divergent shifts under differential perturbations, and that the particular behavior is markedly different between different topologies. Investigating topological changes under differential perturbations may address the longstanding problem of discriminating direct and indirect connectivities in biological networks. |
A transcriptional system is built based on a 'resource allocator' that sets a core RNAP concentration, which is then shared by multiple sigma fragments, which provide specificity. Adjusting the concentration of the core sets the maximum transcriptional capacity available to a synthetic system. |
This work introduces an experimental platform customized for the development and verification of reverse engineering and pathway characterization algorithms in mammalian cells. Specifically, we stably integrate a synthetic gene network in human kidney cells and use it as a benchmark for validating reverse engineering methodologies. The network, which is orthogonal to endogenous cellular signaling, contains a small set of regulatory interactions that can be used to quantify the reconstruction performance. By performing successive perturbations to each modular component of the network and comparing protein and RNA measurements, we study the conditions under which we can reliably reconstruct the causal relationships of the integrated synthetic network. |
Using synthetic circuits stably integrated in human kidney cells, we study the effect of negative feedback regulation on cell-wide (extrinsic) and gene-specific (intrinsic) sources of uncertainty. We develop a theoretical approach to extract the two noise components from experiments and show that negative feedback reduces extrinsic noise while marginally increasing intrinsic noise, resulting to significant total noise reduction. We compare the results to simple negative regulation, where a constitutively transcribed transcription factor represses a reporter protein. We observe that the control architecture also reduces the extrinsic noise but results in substantially higher intrinsic fluctuations. We conclude that negative feedback is the most efficient way to mitigate the effects of extrinsic fluctuations by a sole regulatory wiring. |
Synthetic biology efforts have largely focused on small engineered gene networks, yet understanding how to integrate multiple synthetic modules and interface them with endogenous pathways remains a challenge. Here we present the design, system integration, and analysis of several large scale synthetic gene circuits for artificial tissue homeostasis. Diabetes therapy represents a possible application for engineered homeostasis, where genetically programmed stem cells maintain a steady population of beta-cells despite continuous turnover. We develop a new iterative process that incorporates modular design principles with hierarchical performance optimization targeted for environments with uncertainty and incomplete information. We employ theoretical analysis and computational simulations of multicellular reaction/diffusion models to design and understand system behavior, and find that certain features often associated with robustness (e.g., multicellular synchronization and noise attenuation) are actually detrimental for tissue homeostasis. We overcome these problems by engineering a new class of genetic modules for 'synthetic cellular heterogeneity' that function to generate beneficial population diversity. We design two such modules (an asynchronous genetic oscillator and a signaling throttle mechanism), demonstrate their capacity for enhancing robust control, and provide guidance for experimental implementation with various computational techniques. We found that designing modules for synthetic heterogeneity can be complex, and in general requires a framework for non-linear and multifactorial analysis. Consequently, we adapt a 'phenotypic sensitivity analysis' method to determine how functional module behaviors combine to achieve optimal system performance. We ultimately combine this analysis with Bayesian network inference to extract critical, causal relationships between a module's biochemical rate-constants, its high level functional behavior in isolation, and its impact on overall system performance once integrated. |
Natural and synthetic biological networks must function reliably in the face of fluctuating stoichiometry of their molecular components. These fluctuations are caused in part by changes in relative expression efficiency and the DNA template amount of the network-coding genes. Gene product levels could potentially be decoupled from these changes via built-in adaptation mechanisms, thereby boosting network reliability. Here we show that a mechanism based on an incoherent feed-forward motif enables adaptive gene expression in mammalian cells. We modeled, synthesized, and tested transcriptional and post-transcriptional incoherent loops and found that in all cases the gene product adapts to changes in DNA template abundance. We also observed that the post-transcriptional form results in superior adaptation behavior, higher absolute expression levels, and lower intrinsic fluctuations. Our results support a previously-hypothesized endogenous role in gene dosage compensation for such motifs and suggest that their incorporation in synthetic networks will improve their robustness and reliability. |
Biological signal transduction networks are commonly viewed as circuits that pass along in the process amplifying signals, enhancing sensitivity, or performing other signal-processing to transcriptional and other components. Here, we report on a "reverse-causality" phenomenon, which we call load-induced modulation. Through a combination of analytical and experimental tools, we discovered that signaling was modulated, in a surprising way, by downstream targets that receive the signal and, in doing so, apply what in physics is called a load. Specifically, we found that non-intuitive changes in response dynamics occurred for a covalent modification cycle when load was present. Loading altered the response time of a system, depending on whether the activity of one of the enzymes was maximal and the other was operating at its minimal rate or whether both enzymes were operating at submaximal rates. These two conditions, which we call "limit regime" and "intermediate regime," were associated with increased or decreased response times, respectively. The bandwidth, the range of frequency in which the system can process information, decreased in the presence of load, suggesting that downstream targets participate in establishing a balance between noise-filtering capabilities and a its ability to process high-frequency stimulation. Nodes in a signaling network are not independent relay devices, but rather are modulated by their downstream targets |
This is an expository paper about certain aspects of Synthetic Biology, including a discussion of the issue of modularity (load effects from downstream components). |
Modularity plays a fundamental role in the prediction of the behavior of a system from the behavior of its components, guaranteeing that the properties of individual components do not change upon interconnection. Just as electrical, hydraulic, and other physical systems often do not display modularity, nor do many biochemical systems, and specifically, genetic networks. Here, we study the effect of interconnections on the input/output dynamic characteristics of transcriptional components, focusing on a property, which we call "retroactivity," that plays a role analogous to non-zero output impedance in electrical systems. In transcriptional networks, retroactivity is large when the amount of transcription factor is comparable to, or smaller than, the amount of promoter binding sites, or when the affinity of such binding sites is high. In order to attenuate the effect of retroactivity, we propose a feedback mechanism inspired by the design of amplifiers in electronics. We introduce, in particular, a mechanism based on a phosphorylation/dephosphorylation cycle. This mechanism enjoys a remarkable insulation property, due to the fast time scales of the phosphorylation and dephosphorylation reactions. Such a mechanism, when viewed as a signal transduction system, has thus an inherent capacity to provide insulation and hence to increase the modularity of the system in which it is placed. |
Conference articles |
In the context of epigenetic transformations in cancer metastasis, a puzzling effect was recently discovered, in which the elimination (knock-out) of an activating regulatory element leads to increased (rather than decreased) activity of the element being regulated. It has been postulated that this paradoxical behavior can be explained by activating and repressing transcription factors competing for binding to other possible targets. It is very difficult to prove this hypothesis in mammalian cells, due to the large number of potential players and the complexity of endogenous intracellular regulatory networks. Instead, this paper analyzes this issue through an analogous synthetic biology construct which aims to reproduce the paradoxical behavior using standard bacterial gene expression networks. The paper first reviews the motivating cancer biology work, and then describes a proposed synthetic construct. A mathematical model is formulated, and basic properties of uniqueness of steady states and convergence to equilibria are established, as well as an identification of parameter regimes which should lead to observing such paradoxical phenomena (more activator leads to less activity at steady state). A proof is also given to show that this is a steady-state property, and for initial transients the phenomenon will not be observed. This work adds to the general line of work of resource competition in synthetic circuits. |
The identification of constraints on system parameters that will ensure that a system achieves desired requirements remains a challenge in synthetic biology, where components unintendedly affect one another by perturbing the cellular environment in which they operate. This paper shows how to solve this problem optimally for a class of input/output system-level specifications, and for unintended interactions due to resource sharing. Specifically, we show how to solve the problem based on the input/output properties of the subsystems and on the unintended interaction map. Our approach is based on the elimination of quantifiers in monotone properties of the system. We illustrate applications of this methodology to guaranteeing system-level performance of multiplexed and sequential biosensing and of bistable genetic circuits. |
Conference version of paper published in IEEE Control Systems Letters, 2020 |
Integral feedback can help achieve robust tracking independently of external disturbances. Motivated by this knowledge, biological engineers have proposed various designs of biomolecular integral feedback controllers to regulate biological processes. In this paper, we theoretically analyze the operation of a particular synthetic biomolecular integral controller, which we have recently proposed and implemented experimentally. Using a combination of methods, ranging from linearized analysis to sum-of-squares (SOS) Lyapunov functions, we demonstrate that, when the controller is operated in closed-loop, it is capable of providing integral corrections to the concentration of an output species in such a manner that the output tracks a reference signal linearly over a large dynamic range. We investigate the output dependency on the reaction parameters through sensitivity analysis, and quantify performance using control theory metrics to characterize response properties, thus providing clear selection guidelines for practical applications. We then demonstrate the stable operation of the closed-loop control system by constructing quartic Lyapunov functions using SOS optimization techniques, and establish global stability for a unique equilibrium. Our analysis suggests that by incorporating effective molecular sequestration, a biomolecular closed-loop integral controller that is capable of robustly regulating gene expression is feasible. |
This tutorial paper presents an introduction to systems and synthetic molecular biology. It provides an introduction to basic biological concepts, and describes some of the techniques as well as challenges in the analysis and design of biomolecular networks. |
Internal reports |
Since its introduction by Briat, Gupta and Khammash, the antithetic feedback controller design has attracted considerable attention in both theoretical and experimental systems biology. The case in which the plant is a two-dimensional linear system (making the closed-loop system a nonlinear four-dimensional system) has been analyzed in much detail. This system has a unique equilibrium but, depending on parameters, it may exhibit periodic orbits. This note shows that, for any parameter choices, every bounded trajectory satisfies a Poincare'-Bendixson property: the dynamics in the omega-limit set of any precompact solution is conjugate to the dynamics in a compact invariant subset of a two-dimensional Lipschitz dynamical system, thus precluding chaotic and other strange attractors. |
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