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GeneGuard: A Modular Plasmid System Designed for Biosafety

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posted on 17.12.2015, 07:43 by Oliver Wright, Mihails Delmans, Guy-Bart Stan, Tom Ellis
Synthetic biology applications in biosensing, bioremediation, and biomining envision the use of engineered microbes beyond a contained laboratory. Deployment of such microbes in the environment raises concerns of unchecked cellular proliferation or unwanted spread of synthetic genes. While antibiotic-resistant plasmids are the most utilized vectors for introducing synthetic genes into bacteria, they are also inherently insecure, acting naturally to propagate DNA from one cell to another. To introduce security into bacterial synthetic biology, we here took on the task of completely reformatting plasmids to be dependent on their intended host strain and inherently disadvantageous for others. Using conditional origins of replication, rich-media compatible auxotrophies, and toxin–antitoxin pairs we constructed a mutually dependent host-plasmid platform, called GeneGuard. In this, replication initiators for the R6K or ColE2-P9 origins are provided in trans by a specified host, whose essential thyA or dapA gene is translocated from a genomic to a plasmid location. This reciprocal arrangement is stable for at least 100 generations without antibiotic selection and is compatible for use in LB medium and soil. Toxin genes ζ or Kid are also employed in an auxiliary manner to make the vector disadvantageous for strains not expressing their antitoxins. These devices, in isolation and in concert, severely reduce unintentional plasmid propagation in E. coli and B. subtilis and do not disrupt the intended E. coli host’s growth dynamics. Our GeneGuard system comprises several versions of modular cargo-ready vectors, along with their requisite genomic integration cassettes, and is demonstrated here as an efficient vector for heavy-metal biosensors.