Design of a De Novo Aggregating Antimicrobial Peptide and a Bacterial Conjugation-Based Delivery System

Antibacterial resistance necessitates the development of novel treatment methods for infections. Protein aggregates have recently been applied as antimicrobials to disrupt bacterial homeostasis. Past work on protein aggregates has focused on genome mining for aggregation-prone sequences in bacterial genomes rather than on rational design of aggregating antimicrobial peptides. Here, we use a synthetic biology approach to design an artificial gene encoding a de novo aggregating antimicrobial peptide. This artificial gene, opaL (overexpressed protein aggregator lipophilic), disrupts bacterial homeostasis by expressing extremely hydrophobic peptides. When this hydrophobic sequence is disrupted by acidic residues, consequent aggregation and antimicrobial effect decrease. Further, we developed a probiotic delivery system using the broad-host range conjugative plasmid RK2 to transfer the gene from donor to recipient bacteria. We utilize RK2 to mobilize a shuttle plasmid carrying opaL by adding the RK2 origin of transfer. We show that opaL is nontoxic to the donor, allowing for maintenance and transfer since its expression is under control of a promoter with a recipient-specific T7 RNA polymerase. Upon mating of donor and recipient Escherichia coli, we observe selective growth repression in T7 polymerase-expressing recipients. This technique could be used to target desired pathogens by selecting pathogen-specific promoters to control T7 RNA polymerase expression and provides a basis for the design and delivery of aggregating antimicrobial peptides.