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Synthetic biology is an emerging branch of molecular biology that uses synthetic genetic constructs to create man-made cells or organisms that are capable of performing novel and/or useful applications. Using a synthetic chemically sensitive genetic toggle switch to activate appropriate fluorescent protein indicators (GFP, RFP) and a cell division inhibitor (minC), we have created a novel E. coli strain that can be used as a highly specific, yet simple and inexpensive chemical recording device. This biological "nanorecorder" can be used to determine both the type and the time at which a brief chemical exposure event has occurred. In particular, we show that the short-term exposure (15-30 min) of cells harboring this synthetic genetic circuit to small molecule signals (anhydrotetracycline or IPTG) triggered long-term and uniform cell elongation, with cell length being directly proportional to the time elapsed following a brief chemical exposure. This work demonstrates that facile modification of an existing genetic toggle switch can be exploited to generate a robust, biologically-based "nanorecorder" that could potentially be adapted to detect, respond and record a wide range of chemical stimuli that may vary over time and space.

Citation

Prasanna Bhomkar, Wayne Materi, David S Wishart. The bacterial nanorecorder: engineering E. coli to function as a chemical recording device. PloS one. 2011;6(11):e27559

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PMID: 22132112

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