Now Accepting Submissions for Three Special Issues

"Plant BioDesign Hub" -- "Designing Proteins With New Folds and Function" -- "Engineering Microbiomes for Biodesign Applications" -- Submit to a special issue today!

Click for details

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 issues

Accepting submissions for three special issues:

Plant BioDesign Hub (deadlines: Aug 31, 2021; Mar 31, 2022; Mar 31, 2023)

• Designing Proteins With New Folds and Function (deadline: Dec 31, 2021)

• Engineering Microbiomes for Biodesign Applications (deadline: Mar 31, 2022)

Latest Articles

More articles
Research Article

Production of Volatile Moth Sex Pheromones in Transgenic Nicotiana benthamiana Plants

Plant-based bioproduction of insect sex pheromones has been proposed as an innovative strategy to increase the sustainability of pest control in agriculture. Here, we describe the engineering of transgenic plants producing (Z)-11-hexadecenol (Z11-16OH) and (Z)-11-hexadecenyl acetate (Z11-16OAc), two main volatile components in many Lepidoptera sex pheromone blends. We assembled multigene DNA constructs encoding the pheromone biosynthetic pathway and stably transformed them into Nicotiana benthamiana plants. The constructs contained the Amyelois transitella AtrΔ11 desaturase gene, the Helicoverpa armigera fatty acyl reductase HarFAR gene, and the Euonymus alatus diacylglycerol acetyltransferase EaDAct gene in different configurations. All the pheromone-producing plants showed dwarf phenotypes, the severity of which correlated with pheromone levels. All but one of the recovered lines produced high levels of Z11-16OH, but very low levels of Z11-16OAc, probably as a result of recurrent truncations at the level of the EaDAct gene. Only one plant line (SxPv1.2) was recovered that harboured an intact pheromone pathway and which produced moderate levels of Z11-16OAc (11.8 μg g-1 FW) and high levels of Z11-16OH (111.4 μg g-1). Z11-16OAc production was accompanied in SxPv1.2 by a partial recovery of the dwarf phenotype. SxPv1.2 was used to estimate the rates of volatile pheromone release, which resulted in 8.48 ng g-1 FW per day for Z11-16OH and 9.44 ng g-1 FW per day for Z11-16OAc. Our results suggest that pheromone release acts as a limiting factor in pheromone biodispenser strategies and establish a roadmap for biotechnological improvements.

Research Article

Engineering of a Promoter Repressed by a Light-Regulated Transcription Factor in Escherichia coli

Light-regulated gene expression systems allow controlling gene expression in space and time with high accuracy. Contrary to previous synthetic light sensors that incorporate two-component systems which require localization at the plasma membrane, soluble one-component repression systems provide several advantageous characteristics. Firstly, they are soluble and able to diffuse across the cytoplasm. Secondly, they are smaller and of lower complexity, enabling less taxing expression and optimization of fewer parts. Thirdly, repression through steric hindrance is a widespread regulation mechanism that does not require specific interaction with host factors, potentially enabling implementation in different organisms. Herein, we present the design of the synthetic promoter PEL that in combination with the light-regulated dimer EL222 constitutes a one-component repression system. Inspired by previously engineered synthetic promoters and the Escherichia coli lacZYA promoter, we designed PEL with two EL222 operators positioned to hinder RNA polymerase binding when EL222 is bound. PEL is repressed by EL222 under conditions of white light with a light-regulated repression ratio of five. Further, alternating conditions of darkness and light in cycles as short as one hour showed that repression is reversible. The design of the PEL-EL222 system herein presented could aid the design and implementation of analogous one-component optogenetic repression systems. Finally, we compare the PEL-EL222 system with similar systems and suggest general improvements that could optimize and extend the functionality of EL222-based as well as other one-component repression systems.

Research Article

In-Depth Computational Analysis of Natural and Artificial Carbon Fixation Pathways

In the recent years, engineering new-to-nature CO2- and C1-fixing metabolic pathways made a leap forward. New, artificial pathways promise higher yields and activity than natural ones like the Calvin-Benson-Bassham (CBB) cycle. The question remains how to best predict their in vivo performance and what actually makes one pathway “better” than another. In this context, we explore aerobic carbon fixation pathways by a computational approach and compare them based on their specific activity and yield on methanol, formate, and CO2/H2 considering the kinetics and thermodynamics of the reactions. Besides pathways found in nature or implemented in the laboratory, this included two completely new cycles with favorable features: the reductive citramalyl-CoA cycle and the 2-hydroxyglutarate-reverse tricarboxylic acid cycle. A comprehensive kinetic data set was collected for all enzymes of all pathways, and missing kinetic data were sampled with the Parameter Balancing algorithm. Kinetic and thermodynamic data were fed to the Enzyme Cost Minimization algorithm to check for respective inconsistencies and calculate pathway-specific activities. The specific activities of the reductive glycine pathway, the CETCH cycle, and the new reductive citramalyl-CoA cycle were predicted to match the best natural cycles with superior product-substrate yield. However, the CBB cycle performed better in terms of activity compared to the alternative pathways than previously thought. We make an argument that stoichiometric yield is likely not the most important design criterion of the CBB cycle. Still, alternative carbon fixation pathways were paretooptimal for specific activity and product-substrate yield in simulations with C1 substrates and CO2/H2 and therefore hold great potential for future applications in Industrial Biotechnology and Synthetic Biology.

Research Article

Durable CRISPR-Based Epigenetic Silencing

Development of CRISPR-based epigenome editing tools is important for the study and engineering of biological behavior. Here, we describe the design of a reporter system for quantifying the ability of CRISPR epigenome editors to produce a stable gene repression. We characterize the dynamics of durable gene silencing and reactivation, as well as the induced epigenetic changes of this system. We report the creation of single-protein CRISPR constructs bearing combinations of three epigenetic editing domains, termed KAL, that can stably repress the gene expression. This system should allow for the development of novel epigenome editing tools which will be useful in a wide array of biological research and engineering applications.

Research Article

Phagocytosed Polyhedrin-Cytokine Cocrystal Nanoparticles Provide Sustained Secretion of Bioactive Cytokines from Macrophages

Many cells possess the ability to engulf and incorporate particles by phagocytosis. This active process is characteristic of microorganisms as well as higher order species. In mammals, monocytes, macrophages, and microglia are among the so-called professional phagocytes. In addition, cells such as fibroblast and chondrocytes are classified as nonprofessional phagocytes. Professional phagocytes play important roles in both the innate and adaptive immune responses, wound healing, and tissue homeostasis. Consequently, these cells are increasingly studied as targets and vectors of therapeutic intervention to treat a range of diseases. Professional phagocytes are notoriously difficult to transfect limiting their study and manipulation. Consequently, efforts have shifted towards the development of nanoparticles to deliver a cargo to phagocytic cells via phagocytosis. However, this approach carries significant technical challenges, particularly for protein cargos. We have focused on the development of nanoscale cocrystalline protein depots, known as PODS®, that contain protein cargos, including cytokines. Here, we show that PODS are readily phagocytosed by nonprofessional as well as professional phagocytic cells and have attributes, such as highly sustained release of cargo, that suggest potential utility for the study and exploitation of phagocytic cells for drug delivery. Monocytes and macrophages that ingest PODS retain normal characteristics including a robust chemotactic response. Moreover, the PODS-cytokine cargo is secreted by the loaded cell at a level sufficient to modulate the behavior of surrounding nonphagocytic cells. The results presented here demonstrate the potential of PODS nanoparticles as a novel molecular tool for the study and manipulation of phagocytic cells and for the development of Trojan horse immunotherapy strategies to treat cancer and other diseases.

Research Article

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

Forward engineering synthetic circuits are at the core of synthetic biology. Automated solutions will be required to facilitate circuit design and implementation. Circuit design is increasingly being automated with design software, but innovations in experimental automation are lagging behind. Microfluidic technologies made it possible to perform in vitro transcription-translation (tx-tl) reactions with increasing throughput and sophistication, enabling screening and characterization of individual circuit elements and complete circuit designs. Here, we developed an automated microfluidic cell-free processing unit (CFPU) that extends high-throughput screening capabilities to a steady-state reaction environment, which is essential for the implementation and analysis of more complex and dynamic circuits. The CFPU contains 280 chemostats that can be individually programmed with DNA circuits. Each chemostat is periodically supplied with tx-tl reagents, giving rise to sustained, long-term steady-state conditions. Using microfluidic pulse width modulation (PWM), the device is able to generate tx-tl reagent compositions in real time. The device has higher throughput, lower reagent consumption, and overall higher functionality than current chemostat devices. We applied this technology to map transcription factor-based repression under equilibrium conditions and implemented dynamic gene circuits switchable by small molecules. We expect the CFPU to help bridge the gap between circuit design and experimental automation for in vitro development of synthetic gene circuits.