Tunable reporter signal production in feedback-uncoupled arsenic bioreporters


  • Funding Information This work was supported by contract CRSI20-122689 from the Swiss National Science Foundation, Sinergia programme, and by a grant from the 7th European Framework Programme (KBBE.2011.5-289326 ST-FLOW).

For correspondence. E-mail janroelof.vandermeer@unil.ch; Tel. (+41) 21 692 5630; Fax (+41) 21 692 5605.


Escherichia coli-based bioreporters for arsenic detection are typically based on the natural feedback loop that controls ars operon transcription. Feedback loops are known to show a wide range linear response to the detriment of the overall amplification of the incoming signal. While being a favourable feature in controlling arsenic detoxification for the cell, a feedback loop is not necessarily the most optimal for obtaining highest sensitivity and response in a designed cellular reporter for arsenic detection. Here we systematically explore the effects of uncoupling the topology of arsenic sensing circuitry on the developed reporter signal as a function of arsenite concentration input. A model was developed to describe relative ArsR and GFP levels in feedback and uncoupled circuitry, which was used to explore new ArsR-based synthetic circuits. The expression of arsR was then placed under the control of a series of constitutive promoters, which differed in promoter strength, and which could be further modulated by TetR repression. Expression of the reporter gene was maintained under the ArsR-controlled Pars promoter. ArsR expression in the systems was measured by using ArsR–mCherry fusion proteins. We find that stronger constitutive ArsR production decreases arsenite-dependent EGFP output from Pars and vice versa. This leads to a tunable series of arsenite-dependent EGFP outputs in a variety of systematically characterized circuitries. The higher expression levels and sensitivities of the response curves in the uncoupled circuits may be useful for improving field-test assays using arsenic bioreporters.