CFPU: A Cell-Free Processing Unit for High-Throughput, Automated In Vitro Circuit Characterization in Steady-State Conditions

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Journal profile

The open access journal BioDesign Research, published in association with NAU, publishes novel research in the interdisciplinary field of biosystems design.

Editorial board

The editorial board, led by Xiaohan Yang (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and Alfonso Jaramillo (University of Warwick), is comprised of experts who have made significant and well recognized contributions to the field of biodesign research.

Special issue

BioDesign Research is now accepting submissions for its first special issue:

Plant BioDesign Hub

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Plant Biosystems Design Research Roadmap 1.0

Human life intimately depends on plants for food, biomaterials, health, energy, and a sustainable environment. Various plants have been genetically improved mostly through breeding, along with limited modification via genetic engineering, yet they are still not able to meet the ever-increasing needs, in terms of both quantity and quality, resulting from the rapid increase in world population and expected standards of living. A step change that may address these challenges would be to expand the potential of plants using biosystems design approaches. This represents a shift in plant science research from relatively simple trial-and-error approaches to innovative strategies based on predictive models of biological systems. Plant biosystems design seeks to accelerate plant genetic improvement using genome editing and genetic circuit engineering or create novel plant systems through de novo synthesis of plant genomes. From this perspective, we present a comprehensive roadmap of plant biosystems design covering theories, principles, and technical methods, along with potential applications in basic and applied plant biology research. We highlight current challenges, future opportunities, and research priorities, along with a framework for international collaboration, towards rapid advancement of this emerging interdisciplinary area of research. Finally, we discuss the importance of social responsibility in utilizing plant biosystems design and suggest strategies for improving public perception, trust, and acceptance.

Review Article

Biosystems Design to Accelerate C3-to-CAM Progression

Global demand for food and bioenergy production has increased rapidly, while the area of arable land has been declining for decades due to damage caused by erosion, pollution, sea level rise, urban development, soil salinization, and water scarcity driven by global climate change. In order to overcome this conflict, there is an urgent need to adapt conventional agriculture to water-limited and hotter conditions with plant crop systems that display higher water-use efficiency (WUE). Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) species have substantially higher WUE than species performing C3 or C4 photosynthesis. CAM plants are derived from C3 photosynthesis ancestors. However, it is extremely unlikely that the C3 or C4 crop plants would evolve rapidly into CAM photosynthesis without human intervention. Currently, there is growing interest in improving WUE through transferring CAM into C3 crops. However, engineering a major metabolic plant pathway, like CAM, is challenging and requires a comprehensive deep understanding of the enzymatic reactions and regulatory networks in both C3 and CAM photosynthesis, as well as overcoming physiometabolic limitations such as diurnal stomatal regulation. Recent advances in CAM evolutionary genomics research, genome editing, and synthetic biology have increased the likelihood of successful acceleration of C3-to-CAM progression. Here, we first summarize the systems biology-level understanding of the molecular processes in the CAM pathway. Then, we review the principles of CAM engineering in an evolutionary context. Lastly, we discuss the technical approaches to accelerate the C3-to-CAM transition in plants using synthetic biology toolboxes.

Research Article

Engineering a Circular Riboregulator in Escherichia coli

RNAs of different shapes and sizes, natural or synthetic, can regulate gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Circular RNAs have recently appeared to be more widespread than previously thought, but their role in prokaryotes remains elusive. Here, by inserting a riboregulatory sequence within a group I permuted intron-exon ribozyme, we created a small noncoding RNA that self-splices to produce a circular riboregulator in Escherichia coli. We showed that the resulting riboregulator can trans-activate gene expression by interacting with a cis-repressed messenger RNA. We characterized the system with a fluorescent reporter and with an antibiotic resistance marker, and we modeled this novel posttranscriptional mechanism. This first reported example of a circular RNA regulating gene expression in E. coli adds to an increasing repertoire of RNA synthetic biology parts, and it highlights that topological molecules can play a role in the case of prokaryotic regulation.

Review Article

Reconfiguring Plant Metabolism for Biodegradable Plastic Production

For decades, plants have been the subject of genetic engineering to synthesize novel, value-added compounds. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a large class of biodegradable biopolymers naturally synthesized in eubacteria, are among the novel products that have been introduced to make use of plant acetyl-CoA metabolic pathways. It was hoped that renewable PHA production would help address environmental issues associated with the accumulation of nondegradable plastic wastes. However, after three decades of effort synthesizing PHAs, and in particular the simplest form polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), and seeking to improve their production in plants, it has proven very difficult to reach a commercially profitable rate in a normally growing plant. This seems to be due to the growth defects associated with PHA production and accumulation in plant cells. Here, we review major breakthroughs that have been made in plant-based PHA synthesis using traditional genetic engineering approaches and discuss challenges that have been encountered. Then, from the point of view of plant synthetic biology, we provide perspectives on reprograming plant acetyl-CoA pathways for PHA production, with the goal of maximizing PHA yield while minimizing growth inhibition. Specifically, we suggest genetic elements that can be considered in genetic circuit design, approaches for nuclear genome and plastome modification, and the use of multiomics and mathematical modeling in understanding and restructuring plant metabolic pathways.


Diverse Systems for Efficient Sequence Insertion and Replacement in Precise Plant Genome Editing

CRISPR-mediated genome editing has been widely applied in plants to make uncomplicated genomic modifications including gene knockout and base changes. However, the introduction of many genetic variants related to valuable agronomic traits requires complex and precise DNA changes. Different CRISPR systems have been developed to achieve efficient sequence insertion and replacement but with limited success. A recent study has significantly improved NHEJ- and HDR-mediated sequence insertion and replacement using chemically modified donor templates. Together with other newly developed precise editing systems, such as prime editing and CRISPR-associated transposases, these technologies will provide new avenues to further the plant genome editing field.


The Role of Synthetic Biology in Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Reduction: Prospects and Challenges

The long atmospheric residence time of CO2 creates an urgent need to add atmospheric carbon drawdown to CO2 regulatory strategies. Synthetic and systems biology (SSB), which enables manipulation of cellular phenotypes, offers a powerful approach to amplifying and adding new possibilities to current land management practices aimed at reducing atmospheric carbon. The participants (in attendance: Christina Agapakis, George Annas, Adam Arkin, George Church, Robert Cook-Deegan, Charles DeLisi, Dan Drell, Sheldon Glashow, Steve Hamburg, Henry Jacoby, Henry Kelly, Mark Kon, Todd Kuiken, Mary Lidstrom, Mike MacCracken, June Medford, Jerry Melillo, Ron Milo, Pilar Ossorio, Ari Patrinos, Keith Paustian, Kristala Jones Prather, Kent Redford, David Resnik, John Reilly, Richard J. Roberts, Daniel Segre, Susan Solomon, Elizabeth Strychalski, Chris Voigt, Dominic Woolf, Stan Wullschleger, and Xiaohan Yang) identified a range of possibilities by which SSB might help reduce greenhouse gas concentrations and which might also contribute to environmental sustainability and adaptation. These include, among other possibilities, engineering plants to convert CO2 produced by respiration into a stable carbonate, designing plants with an increased root-to-shoot ratio, and creating plants with the ability to self-fertilize. A number of serious ecological and societal challenges must, however, be confronted and resolved before any such application can be fully assessed, realized, and deployed.