Overview and Inspiration for Project

A common goal of synthetic biologists is to produce complex compounds in lab friendly chassis, such as E. coli or yeast. This is usually done by taking a large enzymatic pathway and placing it in the chassis to produce the final product. In certain cases, such as the production of artemisinin, this has been very successful. However, there are usually fitness costs related to this effort - in particular, metabolic burden and negative feedback - that prevent efficient production.

Can we engineer organisms to more efficiently produce a compound by harnessing symbiosis?

When we look at nature, we find that organisms both cooperate in nature to accomplish a task and tend to exploit others to obtain nutrients. Some organisms even collaborate to obtain a mutual evolutionary advantage. These various levels of cooperation are known as symbiosis.

We propose that instead of using one organism or strain to accomplish a task, it would be more efficient to get several strains to work together. The ability to "tune" the population ratios of the various symbiotic strains in order to maximize efficiency would also be extremely useful - especially in industrial situations.

Summary: We are taking three different synthetic approaches to study tunable symbiosis. In the first, we use a model pathway (violacein production) to see if cells can work together to more efficiently produce a product. In the second two approaches we look at ways in which cells can be tuned to achieve ideal population ratios.