Engineers frequently vary design parameters to optimize the behaviour of a system. However, synthetic biologists lack the tools to rapidly explore a critical design parameter, gene expression level, and have no means of systematically varying the dosage of an entire genetic circuit. As a step toward overcoming this shortfall, we have developed a technology that enables the same plasmid to be maintained at different copy numbers in a set of closely related cells. This provides a rapid method for exploring gene or cassette dosage effects.
We engineered two sets of strains to constitutively provide a trans-acting replication factor, either Pi of the R6K plasmid or RepA of the ColE2 plasmid, at different doses. Each DIAL (different allele) strain supports the replication of a corresponding plasmid at a constant level between 1 and 250 copies per cell. The plasmids exhibit cell-to-cell variability comparable to other popular replicons, but with improved stability. Since the origins are orthogonal, both replication factors can be incorporated into the same cell. We demonstrate the utility of these strains by rapidly assessing the optimal expression level of a model biosynthetic pathway for violecein.
The DIAL strains can rapidly optimize single gene expression levels, help balance expression of functionally coupled genetic elements, improve investigation of gene and circuit dosage effects, and enable faster development of metabolic pathways.