Theses Doctoral

Gene Regulatory Compatibility in Bacteria: Consequences for Synthetic Biology and Evolution

Johns, Nathan Isaac

Mechanistic understanding of gene regulation is crucial for rational engineering of new genetic systems through synthetic biology. Genetic engineering efforts in new organisms are often hampered by a lack of knowledge about how regulatory components function in new host contexts. This dissertation focuses on efforts to overcome these challenges through the development of generalizable experimental methods for studying the behavior of DNA regulatory sequences in diverse species at large-scale.
Chapter 2 describes experimental approaches for quantitatively assessing the functions of thousands of diverse natural regulatory sequences through a combination of metagenomic mining, high-throughput DNA synthesis and deep sequencing. By employing these methods in three distinct bacterial species, we revealed striking functional differences in gene regulatory capacity. We identified regulatory sequences with activity levels with activity levels spanning several orders of magnitude, which will aid in efforts to engineer diverse bacterial species. We also demonstrate functional species-selective gene circuits with programmable host behaviors that may be useful for microbial community engineering. In Chapter 3 we provide evidence for the evolution of altered stringency in σ70-mediated transcriptional activation based on patterns of initiation and activity from promoters of diverse compositions. We show that the contrast in GC content between a regulatory element and the host genome dictates both the likelihood and the magnitude of expression. We also discuss the potential implications of this proposed mechanism on horizontal gene transfer.
The next two chapters focus on efforts aimed at extending the high-throughput methods described in earlier chapters to new organisms. Chapter 4 presents an in vitro approach for multiplexed gene expression profiling. Through the development and use of cell-free expression systems made from diverse bacteria, it was possible to rapidly acquire thousands of transcriptional measurements in small volume reactions, enabling functional comparisons of regulatory sequence function across multiple species. In Chapter 5 we characterize the restriction-modification system repertoires of several commensal bacterial species. We also describe ongoing efforts to develop methods for bypassing these systems in order to increase transformation efficiencies in species that are difficult or impossible to transform using current approaches.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Wang, Harris H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 10, 2019