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Keywords:

  • synthetic biology;
  • gene expression;
  • T7 RNA polymerase;
  • transcription terminator;
  • translation

Abstract

Engineering protein expression in vitro or in vivo is usually straightforward for single genes, but remains challenging for multiple genes because of the requirement of coordinated control. RNA and protein overexpression strategies often exploit T7 RNA polymerase and its natural TΦ Class I terminator. However, this terminator's inefficiency and large size (100 bp) are problematic for multigene construction and expression. Here, we measure the effects of tandem copies of a small (18 bp) Class II T7 terminator from vesicular stomatitis virus on transcription in vitro and on translation in vitro and in vivo. We first test monomeric and dimeric gene constructs, then attempt extension to pentameric gene constructs. “BioBrick” versions of a pET vector and translation factor genes were constructed to facilitate cloning, and His-tags were incorporated to allow copurification of all protein products for relatively unbiased analysis and easy purification. Several results were surprising, including imbalanced expression of the pentameric constructs in vivo, illustrating the value of synthetic biology for investigating gene expression. However, these problems were solved rationally by changing the orders of the genes and by adding extra promoters to the upstream gene or by moving to a more predictable in vitro translation system. These successes were significant, given our initial unexpected results and that we are unaware of another example of coordinated overexpression of five proteins. Our modular, flexible, rational method should further empower synthetic biologists wishing to overexpress multiple proteins simultaneously. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2009; 104: 1189–1196. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.