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Programmable protein circuits in living cells

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1252-1258
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5062

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Building smarter synthetic biological circuits

Synthetic genetic and biological regulatory circuits can enable logic functions to form the basis of biological computing; synthetic biology can also be used to control cell behaviors (see the Perspective by Glass and Alon). Andrews et al. used mathematical models and computer algorithms to combine standardized components and build programmable genetic sequential logic circuits. Such circuits can perform regulatory functions much like the biological checkpoint circuits of living cells. Circuits composed of interacting proteins could be used to bypass gene regulation, interfacing directly with cellular pathways without genome modification. Gao et al. engineered proteases that regulate one another, respond to diverse inputs that include oncogene activation, process signals, and conditionally activate responses such as those leading to cell death. This platform should facilitate development of “smart” therapeutic circuits for future biomedical applications.

Science, this issue p. eaap8987, p. 1252; see also p. 1199

Abstract

Synthetic protein-level circuits could enable engineering of powerful new cellular behaviors. Rational protein circuit design would be facilitated by a composable protein-protein regulation system in which individual protein components can regulate one another to create a variety of different circuit architectures. In this study, we show that engineered viral proteases can function as composable protein components, which can together implement a broad variety of circuit-level functions in mammalian cells. In this system, termed CHOMP (circuits of hacked orthogonal modular proteases), input proteases dock with and cleave target proteases to inhibit their function. These components can be connected to generate regulatory cascades, binary logic gates, and dynamic analog signal-processing functions. To demonstrate the utility of this system, we rationally designed a circuit that induces cell death in response to upstream activators of the Ras oncogene. Because CHOMP circuits can perform complex functions yet be encoded as single transcripts and delivered without genomic integration, they offer a scalable platform to facilitate protein circuit engineering for biotechnological applications.

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