The Role of Synthetic Biology in Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Reduction: Prospects and ChallengesRead the full article
The open access journal BioDesign Research, published in association with NAU, publishes novel research in the interdisciplinary field of biosystems design.
The editorial board, led by Xiaohan Yang (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), Stanley Qi (Stanford University) and Alfonso Jaramillo (University of Warwick), is comprised of experts who have made significant and well recognized contributions to the field of biodesign research.
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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.
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.
Prime Editing Technology and Its Prospects for Future Applications in Plant Biology Research
Many applications in plant biology requires editing genomes accurately including correcting point mutations, incorporation of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and introduction of multinucleotide insertion/deletions (indels) into a predetermined position in the genome. These types of modifications are possible using existing genome-editing technologies such as the CRISPR-Cas systems, which require induction of double-stranded breaks in the target DNA site and the supply of a donor DNA molecule that contains the desired edit sequence. However, low frequency of homologous recombination in plants and difficulty of delivering the donor DNA molecules make this process extremely inefficient. Another kind of technology known as base editing can perform precise editing; however, only certain types of modifications can be obtained, e.g., C/G-to-T/A and A/T-to-G/C. Recently, a new type of genome-editing technology, referred to as “prime editing,” has been developed, which can achieve various types of editing such as any base-to-base conversion, including both transitions (C→T, G→A, A→G, and T→C) and transversion mutations (C→A, C→G, G→C, G→T, A→C, A→T, T→A, and T→G), as well as small indels without the requirement for inducing double-stranded break in the DNA. Because prime editing has wide flexibility to achieve different types of edits in the genome, it holds a great potential for developing superior crops for various purposes, such as increasing yield, providing resistance to various abiotic and biotic stresses, and improving quality of plant product. In this review, we describe the prime editing technology and discuss its limitations and potential applications in plant biology research.
Plant Biosystems Design for a Carbon-Neutral Bioeconomy
Our society faces multiple daunting challenges including finding sustainable solutions towards climate change mitigation; efficient production of food, biofuels, and biomaterials; maximizing land-use efficiency; and enabling a sustainable bioeconomy. Plants can provide environmentally and economically sustainable solutions to these challenges due to their inherent capabilities for photosynthetic capture of atmospheric CO2, allocation of carbon to various organs and partitioning into various chemical forms, including contributions to total soil carbon. In order to enhance crop productivity and optimize chemistry simultaneously in the above- and belowground plant tissues, transformative biosystems design strategies are needed. Concerted research efforts will be required for accelerating the development of plant cultivars, genotypes, or varieties that are cooptimized in the contexts of biomass-derived fuels and/or materials aboveground and enhanced carbon sequestration belowground. Here, we briefly discuss significant knowledge gaps in our process understanding and the potential of synthetic biology in enabling advancements along the fundamental to applied research arc. Ultimately, a convergence of perspectives from academic, industrial, government, and consumer sectors will be needed to realize the potential merits of plant biosystems design for a carbon neutral bioeconomy.