Metabolic perturbations to an E. coli-based cell-free system reveal a trade-off between transcription and translation

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Title Metabolic perturbations to an E. coli-based cell-free system reveal a trade-off between transcription and translation
Authors Manisha Kapasiawala and Richard M. Murray
Source SEED 2023
Abstract Cell-free transcription-translation (TX-TL) systems have been used for diverse applications, from prototyping gene circuits to providing a platform for the development of synthetic life, but their performance is limited by issues such as batch-to-batch variability, poor predictability, and limited lifetime. These issues stem largely from the fact that cell lysate contains an active and complex metabolism whose effect on TX-TL has remained largely uncharacterized.

Motivated by a minimal model of cell-free metabolism, this work explored the effects of energy molecules, which power TX-TL, and fuel molecules, which regenerate energy by harnessing core metabolism, on an E. coli -based TX-TL system. This work reports a compensatory interaction between TX-TL components Mg2+ and 3-phosphoglyceric acid (3-PGA, used to regenerate ATP), where if one component’s concentration is increased, the other’s must likewise be increased to maintain optimal translation. Furthermore, maximum mRNA and protein production occur in opposite concentration regimes of Mg+2 and 3-PGA, suggesting a TX-TL trade-off. To explore the observed phenomenon, transcription and translation were decoupled. Under translation inhibition, transcriptional output was uniform across Mg2+ and 3-PGA concentrations, but in a translation-only system, maximum protein production occurred in the previously found optimal regime of Mg2+ and 3-PGA. Using alternative fuels to regenerate energy, this work found that the trade-off is universal across the different fuel sources, and that a system’s position along the trade-off is determined strongly by Mg2+. The location and slope of the trade-off curve are determined strongly by DNA concentration, cell lysate batch, and the fraction of cell lysate in a reaction. Finally, in systems where additional energy is supplied and where a fuel source is absent, the trade-off is absent.

Overall, these results suggest the trade-off arises from limitations in translation regulation and efficient energy regeneration. This work represents a significant advancement in understanding the effects of fuel and energy metabolism on TX-TL in cell-free systems and lays the foundation for improving TX-TL performance, lifetime, standardization, and prediction.

Type Preprint (conference poster)
DOI 10.1101/2023.03.22.533877
ID 2023c