Bacteriophage technologies and their application to synthetic gene networks
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Synthetic biology, a field that sits between Biology and Engineering disciplines, has come into its own in the last decade. The decreasing cost of DNA synthesis has lead to the creation of larger and more complex synthetic gene networks, engineered with functional goals rather than simple demonstration. While many methods have been developed to reduce the time required to produce complex networks, none focus upon the considerable tuning needed to turn structurally correct networks into functional gene networks. To this end, we created a Plug-and-Play synthetic gene network assembly that emphasizes character-driven iteration for producing functional synthetic gene networks. This platform enables post-construction modification and easy tuning of networks through its ability to swap individual parts. To demonstrate this system, we constructed a functional bistable genetic toggle and transformed it into two functionally distinct synthetic networks. Once these networks have been created and tuned at the bench, they next must be delivered to bacteria in their target environment. While this is easy for industrial applications, delivering synthetic networks as medical therapeutics has a host of problems, such as competing microbes, the host immune system, and harsh microenvironments. Therefore, we employed bacteriophage technologies to deliver functional synthetic gene networks to specific bacterial strains in various microenvironments. We first sought to deliver functional genetic networks to bacteria present in the gut microbiome. This allows for functionalization of these bacteria to eventually sense disease states and secrete therapeutics. As a proof of concept a simple circuit was created using the Plug-and-Play platform and tested before being moved into the replicative form plasmid of the M13 bacteriophage. Bacteriophage particles carrying this network were used to infect gut bacteria of mice. Infection and functionality of the synthetic network was monitored from screening fecal samples. Next, we employed phagemid technologies to deliver high copy plasmids expressing antibacterial networks to target bacteria. This allows for sustained expression of antibacterial genes that cause non-lytic bacterial death without reliance upon traditional small molecule antibiotics. Phagemid particles carrying our antibacterial networks were then tested against wild type and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in an in vitro and in vivo environment.