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Project 1: Bacterial Nightlight

Allivibrio fischeri is a gram-negative bacteria that is a biological model for both quorum-sensing bioluminescence research. This rod-shaped bacteria participates in symbiotic relationships with various marine organisms, most notably the Bobtail squid. This squid hosts Allivibrio fisheri and uses its light to hide the squid's shadow in shallow waters to avoid potential predators. The bioluminescence is produced by the Lux operon and is a quorum-sensing dependent mechanism (for more on quorum-sensing see Project #2). Once the population of V. fisheri reaches a certain level, as quantitated by AHL concentration, the Lux operon is turned on. The Lux operon (below) consists of 5 essential genes: LuxA, LuxB, LuxC, LuxD, and LuxE.


LuxC, LuxD, and Lux E form the fatty acid reductase enzyme complex that synthesizes fatty acid aldehydes with acyl-CoA as the starting substrate. The 3 gene products form a complex conglomerate (below) to increase kinetic efficiency. LuxD is the transferase, LuxE is the synthetase, and LuxC is the reductase.


LuxA and LuxB form a dimer that reduces O2 while oxidizing the aldehyde and FMNH2. This oxidation produces the blue-green light (~490nm). Another representation of the overall reaction is shown below:


Also, it has been shown that the LuxG gene, although not essential, does increase brightness by functioning as a flavin reductase.(

Our Project Idea: Transform an E. Coli with the 5 essential Lux genes (LuxABCDE) as well as Lux G. This Lux brick will be under the control of a UV induced promoter system and a C1 lambda inverter system. This means that while the bacteria is exposed to UV light, the C1 protein will repress C1 regulated promoter that is upstream of the Lux brick, and no light will be produced. On the flip side, when the bacteria is not exposed to UV light, no C1 will be made and the C1 regulated promoter will be activated and produce the Lux brick and the culture will luminesce. To further optimize the system, we have expressed the individual Lux genes in varying levels to see which of the 6 is the rate limiting step in bioluminescence.

Possible Promoter systems:
Circadian clock - KaiABC/SasA/RpaA is the simplest oscillator found in cyanobacteria, Synechococcus elongatus

Blue Light Induced - YcgE/YcgF is endogenous to E. Coli. We have the system built and are testing it now.

Red light Induced - Cph8/PCB/OmpR is a system that won iGEM in 2006 but every team that has used it since has run into problems

Project 1: Experiments

Project 1: Results

Project 2: Biofilm Prevention

Quorum Sensing in LuxR containing Bacteria

This year the CU iGEM team has harnessed the quorum sensing factors endogenous in the Salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium LT2 strain to detect AHLs produced by other bacteria. Neither Salmonella nor E. coli have been shown to produce detectable levels of AHLs, so they were model organisms for the detection of other AHL producing bacteria such as Vibrio fisheri, or pathogenic bacteria such as Yersinia pestis. AHLs are small molecules synthesized by most gram negative bacteria, and are able to freely diffuse throughout the membrane. When the concentration of AHL producing bacteria in a specific area increases, the total concentration of AHLs diffusing into the cytoplasm also increases. Once a threshold level of AHLs are in the cytosol, transcription factors like the Vibrio fisheri LuxR or Salmonella enterica SdiA activate gene synthesis for quorum factors to be produced. In pathogenic bacteria, these signals have been shown to activate transcription of pathogenic factors.


Detection and silencing of AHL producing bacteria

The SdiA transcription factor has been shown to be more sensitive to lower concentrations and a greater diversity of AHLs than its LuxR homolog. We took advantage of this extra-sensitivity to create a detection system for AHL producing bacteria, while additionally attaching the detection system to the secretion of potent AHLases such as the Aiia enzyme, and a reporter protein RFP. Using this construct we tested whether we could disrupt the quorum sensing signal AHLs in order to keep them from reaching the threshold concentration to activate the less sensitive LuxR receptor. The V. fisheri species and other pathogenic bacteria use the LuxR receptor, therefore inhibition of AHLs would keep V. fisheri from producing light. Keeping the V. fisheri from producing light is an analogous model to keeping pathogenic bacteria from being stimulated by AHLs to release their pathogenesis factors.


Inhibiting quorum sensing in bacteria has been shown to not only inhibit the transcription of pathogenesis factors, but also to keep biofilms from forming. In the history of iGEM teams have used secreted enzymes to digest biofilms that have already been made, but our use of quorum sensing inhibitors have gone a step further, and are being tested in their ability to keep bacteria from making biofilms in the first place.

Project 2: Experiments

1. Test whether the SdiA pSrgE cassette is more sensitive to extracellular AHLs than the LuxR LuxpR cassette. This will be done by placing an RFP behind the cassette, and using the plate reader to determine the fluorescence at a given concentration of RFP.

2. Use the SdiA pSrgE cassette’s sensitivity to inhibit the LuxR LuxpR system. Attach an AHLase and YFP to the more sensitive SdiA/pSrgE cassette. Co-culture the AHLase/YFP construct with a LuxR/LuxpR-RFP bacteria. The culture should turn fluoresce yellow, and not turn red.

3. Test the SdiA pSrgE cassette’s inhibition effects with Vibrio fisheri acting as a pathogen analogue. Co-culture the SdiA/pSrgE/YFP/Aiia cells with V. fisheri and use the plate reader to show that co-cultures will keep V. fisheri from emitting light at given ODs.

Project 2: Results