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Journal: Molecular systems biology


There is a groundswell of interest in using genetically engineered sensor bacteria to study gut microbiota pathways, and diagnose or treat associated diseases. Here, we computationally identify the first biological thiosulfate sensor and an improved tetrathionate sensor, both two-component systems from marine Shewanella species, and validate them in laboratory Escherichia coli Then, we port these sensors into a gut-adapted probiotic E. coli strain, and develop a method based upon oral gavage and flow cytometry of colon and fecal samples to demonstrate that colon inflammation (colitis) activates the thiosulfate sensor in mice harboring native gut microbiota. Our thiosulfate sensor may have applications in bacterial diagnostics or therapeutics. Finally, our approach can be replicated for a wide range of bacterial sensors and should thus enable a new class of minimally invasive studies of gut microbiota pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Medicine, Gene, Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Escherichia coli


Engineered bacteria have great potential for medical and environmental applications. Fulfilling this potential requires controllability over engineered behaviors and scalability of the engineered systems. Here, we present a platform technology, microbial swarmbot, which employs spatial arrangement to control the growth dynamics of engineered bacteria. As a proof of principle, we demonstrated a safeguard strategy to prevent unintended bacterial proliferation. In particular, we adopted several synthetic gene circuits to program collective survival in Escherichia coli: the engineered bacteria could only survive when present at sufficiently high population densities. When encapsulated by permeable membranes, these bacteria can sense the local environment and respond accordingly. The cells inside the microbial swarmbot capsules will survive due to their high densities. Those escaping from a capsule, however, will be killed due to a decrease in their densities. We demonstrate that this design concept is modular and readily generalizable. Our work lays the foundation for engineering integrated and programmable control of hybrid biological-material systems for diverse applications.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Antibiotic resistance, Escherichia coli, Population density, Proteobacteria


Macromolecular protein complexes carry out many of the essential functions of cells, and many genetic diseases arise from disrupting the functions of such complexes. Currently, there is great interest in defining the complete set of human protein complexes, but recent published maps lack comprehensive coverage. Here, through the synthesis of over 9,000 published mass spectrometry experiments, we present hu.MAP, the most comprehensive and accurate human protein complex map to date, containing > 4,600 total complexes, > 7,700 proteins, and > 56,000 unique interactions, including thousands of confident protein interactions not identified by the original publications. hu.MAP accurately recapitulates known complexes withheld from the learning procedure, which was optimized with the aid of a new quantitative metric (k-cliques) for comparing sets of sets. The vast majority of complexes in our map are significantly enriched with literature annotations, and the map overall shows improved coverage of many disease-associated proteins, as we describe in detail for ciliopathies. Using hu.MAP, we predicted and experimentally validated candidate ciliopathy disease genes in vivo in a model vertebrate, discovering CCDC138, WDR90, and KIAA1328 to be new cilia basal body/centriolar satellite proteins, and identifying ANKRD55 as a novel member of the intraflagellar transport machinery. By offering significant improvements to the accuracy and coverage of human protein complexes, hu.MAP ( serves as a valuable resource for better understanding the core cellular functions of human proteins and helping to determine mechanistic foundations of human disease.

Concepts: Better, Protein, Gene, Cell, Cancer, Disease, Genetic disorder, Ciliopathy


Existing computational pipelines for quantitative analysis of high-content microscopy data rely on traditional machine learning approaches that fail to accurately classify more than a single dataset without substantial tuning and training, requiring extensive analysis. Here, we demonstrate that the application of deep learning to biological image data can overcome the pitfalls associated with conventional machine learning classifiers. Using a deep convolutional neural network (DeepLoc) to analyze yeast cell images, we show improved performance over traditional approaches in the automated classification of protein subcellular localization. We also demonstrate the ability of DeepLoc to classify highly divergent image sets, including images of pheromone-arrested cells with abnormal cellular morphology, as well as images generated in different genetic backgrounds and in different laboratories. We offer an open-source implementation that enables updating DeepLoc on new microscopy datasets. This study highlights deep learning as an important tool for the expedited analysis of high-content microscopy data.

Concepts: Protein, Cell nucleus, Bioinformatics, Organism, Cell biology, Yeast, Data set, Protein subcellular localization prediction


The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a key regulator of tissue morphogenesis and repair. However, its composition and architecture are not well characterized. Here, we monitor remodeling of the extracellular niche in tissue repair in the bleomycin-induced lung injury mouse model. Mass spectrometry quantified 8,366 proteins from total tissue and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) over the course of 8 weeks, surveying tissue composition from the onset of inflammation and fibrosis to its full recovery. Combined analysis of proteome, secretome, and transcriptome highlighted post-transcriptional events during tissue fibrogenesis and defined the composition of airway epithelial lining fluid. To comprehensively characterize the ECM, we developed a quantitative detergent solubility profiling (QDSP) method, which identified Emilin-2 and collagen-XXVIII as novel constituents of the provisional repair matrix. QDSP revealed which secreted proteins interact with the ECM, and showed drastically altered association of morphogens to the insoluble matrix upon injury. Thus, our proteomic systems biology study assigns proteins to tissue compartments and uncovers their dynamic regulation upon lung injury and repair, potentially contributing to the development of anti-fibrotic strategies.

Concepts: Pulmonology, Extracellular matrix, Fibrosis, Epithelium, Bronchoalveolar lavage, Proteomics, Proteome, Lavage


Increasing antibiotic resistance urges for new technologies for studying microbes and antimicrobial mechanism of action. We adapted thermal proteome profiling (TPP) to probe the thermostability of Escherichia coli proteins in vivoE. coli had a more thermostable proteome than human cells, with protein thermostability depending on subcellular location-forming a high-to-low gradient from the cell surface to the cytoplasm. While subunits of protein complexes residing in one compartment melted similarly, protein complexes spanning compartments often had their subunits melting in a location-wise manner. Monitoring the E. coli meltome and proteome at different growth phases captured changes in metabolism. Cells lacking TolC, a component of multiple efflux pumps, exhibited major physiological changes, including differential thermostability and levels of its interaction partners, signaling cascades, and periplasmic quality control. Finally, we combined in vitro and in vivo TPP to identify targets of known antimicrobial drugs and to map their downstream effects. In conclusion, we demonstrate that TPP can be used in bacteria to probe protein complex architecture, metabolic pathways, and intracellular drug target engagement.


Diverse mechanisms have been proposed to explain biological pattern formation. Regardless of their specific molecular interactions, the majority of these mechanisms require morphogen gradients as the spatial cue, which are either predefined or generated as a part of the patterning process. However, using Escherichia coli programmed by a synthetic gene circuit, we demonstrate here the generation of robust, self-organized ring patterns of gene expression in the absence of an apparent morphogen gradient. Instead of being a spatial cue, the morphogen serves as a timing cue to trigger the formation and maintenance of the ring patterns. The timing mechanism enables the system to sense the domain size of the environment and generate patterns that scale accordingly. Our work defines a novel mechanism of pattern formation that has implications for understanding natural developmental processes.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Gene expression, Bacteria, Evolution, Molecular biology, Organism, Pattern


High-throughput binary protein interaction mapping is continuing to extend our understanding of cellular function and disease mechanisms. However, we remain one or two orders of magnitude away from a complete interaction map for humans and other major model organisms. Completion will require screening at substantially larger scales with many complementary assays, requiring further efficiency gains in proteome-scale interaction mapping. Here, we report Barcode Fusion Genetics-Yeast Two-Hybrid (BFG-Y2H), by which a full matrix of protein pairs can be screened in a single multiplexed strain pool. BFG-Y2H uses Cre recombination to fuse DNA barcodes from distinct plasmids, generating chimeric protein-pair barcodes that can be quantified via next-generation sequencing. We applied BFG-Y2H to four different matrices ranging in scale from ~25 K to 2.5 M protein pairs. The results show that BFG-Y2H increases the efficiency of protein matrix screening, with quality that is on par with state-of-the-art Y2H methods.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Biology, Escherichia coli


Genome-modification technologies enable the rational engineering and perturbation of biological systems. Historically, these methods have been limited to gene insertions or mutations at random or at a few pre-defined locations across the genome. The handful of methods capable of targeted gene editing suffered from low efficiencies, significant labor costs, or both. Recent advances have dramatically expanded our ability to engineer cells in a directed and combinatorial manner. Here, we review current technologies and methodologies for genome-scale engineering, discuss the prospects for extending efficient genome modification to new hosts, and explore the implications of continued advances toward the development of flexibly programmable chasses, novel biochemistries, and safer organismal and ecological engineering.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Organism, Life, Virus


Gut microbiota dysbiosis has been implicated in a variety of systemic disorders, notably metabolic diseases including obesity and impaired liver function, but the underlying mechanisms are uncertain. To investigate this question, we transferred caecal microbiota from either obese or lean mice to antibiotic-free, conventional wild-type mice. We found that transferring obese-mouse gut microbiota to mice on normal chow (NC) acutely reduces markers of hepatic gluconeogenesis with decreased hepatic PEPCK activity, compared to non-inoculated mice, a phenotypic trait blunted in conventional NOD2 KO mice. Furthermore, transferring of obese-mouse microbiota changes both the gut microbiota and the microbiome of recipient mice. We also found that transferring obese gut microbiota to NC-fed mice then fed with a high-fat diet (HFD) acutely impacts hepatic metabolism and prevents HFD-increased hepatic gluconeogenesis compared to non-inoculated mice. Moreover, the recipient mice exhibit reduced hepatic PEPCK and G6Pase activity, fed glycaemia and adiposity. Conversely, transfer of lean-mouse microbiota does not affect markers of hepatic gluconeogenesis. Our findings provide a new perspective on gut microbiota dysbiosis, potentially useful to better understand the aetiology of metabolic diseases.

Concepts: Cancer, Bacteria, Gut flora, Nutrition, Obesity, Liver, Glycogen, Gluconeogenesis