So far, gene therapies have relied on complex constructs that cannot be finely controlled1,2. Here we report a universal switch element that enables precise control of gene replacement or gene editing after exposure to a small molecule. The small-molecule inducers are currently in human use, are orally bioavailable when given to animals or humans and can reach both peripheral tissues and the brain. Moreover, the switch system, which we denote Xon, does not require the co-expression of any regulatory proteins. Using Xon, the translation of the desired elements for controlled gene replacement or gene editing machinery occurs after a single oral dose of the inducer, and the robustness of expression can be controlled by the drug dose, protein stability and redosing. The ability of Xon to provide temporal control of protein expression can be adapted for cell-biology applications and animal studies. Additionally, owing to the oral bioavailability and safety of the drugs used, the Xon switch system provides an unprecedented opportunity to refine and tailor the application of gene therapies in humans.
Therapeutic proteins such as vaccines, antibodies, hormones, and cytokines are generally produced in bacteria or eukaryotic systems, including chicken eggs and mammalian or insect cell cultures, with high production yield according to well-defined regulatory guidelines ([ 1 ]). The use of plants for the production of therapeutic proteins, called molecular farming, was proposed as an alternative biomanufacturing method in 1986. The first and only plant-derived therapeutic protein for human use was approved in 2012 for the treatment of Gaucher disease. In 2019, a plant-produced influenza virus vaccine completed phase 3 clinical trials, with encouraging results ([ 2 ]). More recently, phase 3 trials for an adjuvanted plant-made vaccine (CoVLP) against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (NCT04636697) began in March 2021. These successes have revived interest in plant-produced pharmaceuticals for human use, which could include edible drugs.
RNA N6-methyladenosine (m6A) modifications are essential in plants. Here, we show that transgenic expression of the human RNA demethylase FTO in rice caused a more than threefold increase in grain yield under greenhouse conditions. In field trials, transgenic expression of FTO in rice and potato caused ~50% increases in yield and biomass. We demonstrate that the presence of FTO stimulates root meristem cell proliferation and tiller bud formation and promotes photosynthetic efficiency and drought tolerance but has no effect on mature cell size, shoot meristem cell proliferation, root diameter, plant height or ploidy. FTO mediates substantial m6A demethylation (around 7% of demethylation in poly(A) RNA and around 35% decrease of m6A in non-ribosomal nuclear RNA) in plant RNA, inducing chromatin openness and transcriptional activation. Therefore, modulation of plant RNA m6A methylation is a promising strategy to dramatically improve plant growth and crop yield.
Engineered therapeutic cells have attracted a great deal of interest due to their potential applications in treating a wide range of diseases, including cancer and autoimmunity. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells are designed to detect and kill tumor cells that present a specific, predefined antigen. The rapid expansion of targeted antigen beyond CD19, has highlighted new challenges, such as autoactivation and T-cell fratricide, that could impact the capacity to manufacture engineered CAR T-cells. Therefore, the development of strategies to control CAR expression at the surface of T-cells and their functions is under intense investigations.
Natural DNA is exquisitely evolved to store genetic information. The chirally inverted l-DNA, possessing the same informational capacity but resistant to biodegradation, may serve as a robust, bioorthogonal information repository. Here we chemically synthesize a 90-kDa high-fidelity mirror-image Pfu DNA polymerase that enables accurate assembly of a kilobase-sized mirror-image gene. We use the polymerase to encode in l-DNA an 1860 paragraph by Louis Pasteur that first proposed a mirror-image world of biology. We realize chiral steganography by embedding a chimeric d-DNA/l-DNA key molecule in a d-DNA storage library, which conveys a false or secret message depending on the chirality of reading. Furthermore, we show that a trace amount of an l-DNA barcode preserved in water from a local pond remains amplifiable and sequenceable for 1 year, whereas a d-DNA barcode under the same conditions could not be amplified after 1 day. These next-generation mirror-image molecular tools may transform the development of advanced mirror-image biology systems and pave the way for the realization of the mirror-image central dogma and exploration of their applications.
With the current interest in cultured meat, mammalian cell-based meat has mostly been unstructured. There is thus still a high demand for artificial steak-like meat. We demonstrate in vitro construction of engineered steak-like tissue assembled of three types of bovine cell fibers (muscle, fat, and vessel). Because actual meat is an aligned assembly of the fibers connected to the tendon for the actions of contraction and relaxation, tendon-gel integrated bioprinting was developed to construct tendon-like gels. In this study, a total of 72 fibers comprising 42 muscles, 28 adipose tissues, and 2 blood capillaries were constructed by tendon-gel integrated bioprinting and manually assembled to fabricate steak-like meat with a diameter of 5 mm and a length of 10 mm inspired by a meat cut. The developed tendon-gel integrated bioprinting here could be a promising technology for the fabrication of the desired types of steak-like cultured meats.
One of the central aims of synthetic biology (SB) is to better understand the mechanisms of life by trying to develop and synthesize new forms and perhaps modes of life. While the question of what is life has occupied mankind for centuries, there is a lack of empirical research examining the basic concepts of life scientists within SB themselves refer to and build on. In order to gain insights into these fundamental concepts, we conducted a qualitative interview study with scientists working in the field of SB. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the underlying understandings, principles, and characteristics of (synthetic) life on the one hand, and the entangled consequences for the conducted experiments and studies as well as the pursued scientific approaches. We identified four primarily underlying basic concepts of life which serve as a fundamental framework for current and further scientific research within SB and have implications for research questions, approaches and aims as well as for the evaluation of scientific results.
Major genomic deletions in independent eukaryotic lineages have led to repeated ancestral loss of biosynthesis pathways for nine of the twenty canonical amino acids1. While the evolutionary forces driving these polyphyletic deletion events are not well understood, the consequence is that extant metazoans are unable to produce nine essential amino acids (EAAs). Previous studies have highlighted that EAA biosynthesis tends to be more energetically costly2,3, raising the possibility that these pathways were lost from organisms with access to abundant EAAs in the environment4,5. It is unclear whether present-day metazoans can reaccept these pathways to resurrect biosynthetic capabilities that were lost long ago or whether evolution has rendered EAA pathways incompatible with metazoan metabolism. Here, we report progress on a large-scale synthetic genomics effort to reestablish EAA biosynthetic functionality in a mammalian cell. We designed codon-optimized biosynthesis pathways based on genes mined from Escherichia coli. These pathways were de novo synthesized in 3 kilobase chunks, assembled in yeasto and genomically integrated into a Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell line. One synthetic pathway produced valine at a sufficient level for cell viability and proliferation, and thus represents a successful example of metazoan EAA biosynthesis restoration. This prototrophic CHO line grows in valine-free medium, and metabolomics using labeled precursors verified de novo biosynthesis of valine. RNA-seq profiling of the valine prototrophic CHO line showed that the synthetic pathway minimally disrupted the cellular transcriptome. Furthermore, valine prototrophic cells exhibited transcriptional signatures associated with rescue from nutritional starvation. This work demonstrates that mammalian metabolism is amenable to restoration of ancient core pathways, thus paving a path for genome-scale efforts to synthetically restore metabolic functions to the metazoan lineage.
Synthetic biology is a field of research that takes concepts from biochemistry and molecular biology discovered within natural forms of life and utilizes them to engineer novel biological parts and systems. In theory - techniques like DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, and genome editing give synthetic biologists the tools required to create entirely synthetic forms of life. In fact, there are a number of research groups currently working on creating synthetic life forms. In 2010, Craig Venter's lab was able to create a self-replicating bacterium designed from synthetic DNA. Here's a TED talk from Venter describing the achievement: https://www.ted.com/talks/craigventerwatchmeunveilsyntheticlife?language=en#t-2920Another example is the NSF-funded Build-A-Cell initiative that is attempting to design completely synthetic eukaryotic cells. Here's a video that describes their work: While it is clear that scientists have the tools to create “synthetic life forms” in the laboratory - I'm curious how long it will be until we have completely synthetic life forms capable of existing surviving and thriving in nature.
Genomically minimal cells, such as JCVI-syn3.0, offer a platform to clarify genes underlying core physiological processes. Although this minimal cell includes genes essential for population growth, the physiology of its single cells remained uncharacterized. To investigate striking morphological variation in JCVI-syn3.0 cells, we present an approach to characterize cell propagation and determine genes affecting cell morphology. Microfluidic chemostats allowed observation of intrinsic cell dynamics that result in irregular morphologies. A genome with 19 genes not retained in JCVI-syn3.0 generated JCVI-syn3A, which presents morphology similar to that of JCVI-syn1.0. We further identified seven of these 19 genes, including two known cell division genes, ftsZ and sepF, a hydrolase of unknown substrate, and four genes that encode membrane-associated proteins of unknown function, which are required together to restore a phenotype similar to that of JCVI-syn1.0. This result emphasizes the polygenic nature of cell division and morphology in a genomically minimal cell.