featuring the Echo acoustic technology
TITLES and AUTHORS
Native cell-free transcription–translation systems offer a rapid route to characterize the regulatory elements (promoters, transcription factors) for gene expression from nonmodel microbial hosts, which can be difficult to assess through traditional in vivo approaches. One such host, Bacillus megaterium, is a giant Gram-positive bacterium with potential biotechnology applications, although many of its regulatory elements remain uncharacterized. Here, we have developed a rapid automated platform for measuring and modeling in vitro cell-free reactions and have applied this to B. megaterium to quantify a range of ribosome binding site variants and previously uncharacterized endogenous constitutive and inducible promoters. To provide quantitative models for cell-free systems, we have also applied a Bayesian approach to infer ordinary differential equation model parameters by simultaneously using time-course data from multiple experimental conditions. Using this modeling framework, we were able to infer previously unknown transcription factor binding affinities and quantify the sharing of cell-free transcription–translation resources (energy, ribosomes, RNA polymerases, nucleotides, and amino acids) using a promoter competition experiment. This allows insights into resource limiting-factors in batch cell-free synthesis mode. Our combined automated and modeling platform allows for the rapid acquisition and model-based analysis of cell-free transcription–translation data from uncharacterized microbial cell hosts, as well as resource competition within cell-free systems, which potentially can be applied to a range of cell-free synthetic biology and biotechnology applications.
Leishmaniasis is a Neglected Tropical Disease caused by the insect-vector borne protozoan parasite, Leishmania species. Infection affects millions of the world’s poorest, however vaccines are absent and drug therapy limited. Recently, public-private partnerships have developed to identify new modes of controlling leishmaniasis. Drug discovery is a significant part of these efforts and here we describe the development and utilization of a novel assay to identify antiprotozoal inhibitors of the Leishmania enzyme, inositol phosphorylceramide (IPC) synthase. IPC synthase is a membrane-bound protein with multiple transmembrane domains, meaning that a conventional in vitro assay using purified protein in solution is highly challenging. Therefore, we utilized Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a vehicle to facilitate ultra-high throughput screening of 1.8 million compounds. Antileishmanial benzazepanes were identified and shown to inhibit the enzyme at nanomolar concentrations. Further chemistry produced a benzazepane that demonstrated potent and specific inhibition of IPC synthase in the Leishmania cell.
Use of droplet digital PCR technology (ddPCR) is expanding rapidly in the diversity of applications and number of users around the world. Access to relatively simple and affordable commercial ddPCR technology has attracted wide interest in use of this technology as a molecular diagnostic tool. For ddPCR to effectively transition to a molecular diagnostic setting requires processes for method validation and verification and demonstration of reproducible instrument performance. In this study, we describe the development and characterization of a DNA reference material (NMI NA008 High GC reference material) comprising a challenging methylated GC-rich DNA template under a novel 96-well microplate format. A scalable process using high precision acoustic dispensing technology was validated to produce the DNA reference material with a certified reference value expressed in amount of DNA molecules per well. An interlaboratory study, conducted using blinded NA008 High GC reference material to assess reproducibility among seven independent laboratories demonstrated less than 4.5% reproducibility relative standard deviation. With the exclusion of one laboratory, laboratories had appropriate technical competency, fully functional instrumentation, and suitable reagents to perform accurate ddPCR based DNA quantification measurements at the time of the study. The study results confirmed that NA008 High GC reference material is fit for the purpose of being used for quality control of ddPCR systems, consumables, instrumentation, and workflow.
Total synthesis of designer chromosomes and genomes is a new paradigm for the study of genetics and biological systems. The Sc2.0 project is building a designer yeast genome from scratch to test and extend the lim- its of our biological knowledge. Here we describe the design, rapid assembly, and characterization of synthetic chromosome VI (synVI). Further, we investigate the phenotypic, transcriptomic, and some consolidation to uncover possible synthetic genetic interactions and/or perturbations of native cellular networks as the number of designer changes increases is the next major step for the Sc2.0 project.
Design and construction of an extensively modified yeast genome is a direct means to interrogate the integrity, com- prehensiveness, and accuracy of the knowl- edge amassed by the yeast community to date. The international synthetic yeast genome project (Sc2.0) aims to build an entirely de- signer, synthetic Saccharomyces cerevisiae ge- nome. The synthetic genome is designed to increase genome stability and genetic flexi- bility while maintaining cell fitness near that of the wild type. A major challenge for a ge- nome synthesis lies in identifying and elim- inating fitness-reducing sequence variants referred to as “bugs.”
The steady expansion in the capacity of modern beamlines for high-throughput data collection, enabled by increasing X-ray brightness, capacity of robotics and detector speeds, has pushed the bottleneck upstream towards sample preparation. Even in ligand-binding studies using crystal soaking, the experiment best able to exploit beamline capacity, a primary limitation is the need for gentle and nontrivial soaking regimens such as stepwise concentration increases, even for robust and well characterized crystals. Here, the use of acoustic droplet ejection for the soaking of protein crystals with small molecules is described, and it is shown that it is both gentle on crystals and allows very high throughput, with 1000 unique soaks easily performed in under 10 min. In addition to having very low compound consumption (tens of nanolitres per sample), the positional precision of acoustic droplet ejection enables the targeted placement of the compound/solvent away from crystals and towards drop edges, allowing gradual diffusion of solvent across the drop. This ensures both an improvement in the reproducibility of X-ray diffraction and increased solvent tolerance of the crystals, thus enabling higher effective compound-soaking concentrations. The technique is detailed here with examples from the protein target JMJD2D, a histone lysine demethylase with roles in cancer and the focus of active structure-based drug-design efforts.
Cancer therapy is increasingly becoming individualized, but there are also big gaps between the molecular knowledge of individual cancers we can generate today and what can be applied in the clinic. In an attempt to bridge this knowledge gap between cancer genetic and molecular profiling and clinically useful information, an individualized systems medicine program has been established at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, and the Helsinki University Hospital. Central to this program is drug sensitivity and resistance testing (DSRT), in which responses of primary cancer cells to a comprehensive clinical oncology and signal transduction drug collection are monitored. The drug sensitivity information is used with molecular profiling to establish hypotheses on individual cancer-selective targeting drug combinations and their predictive biomarkers, which can be explored in the clinic. Here, we describe how acoustic droplet ejection is enabling DSRT in our cancer individualized systems medicine program to (1) generate consistent but configurable assay-ready plates and determine how this affects data quality, (2) flexibly prepare drug combination testing plates, (3) dispense reagents and cells to the assay plates, and (4) perform ultra-miniaturized follow up assays on the cells from DSRT plates.
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress activates three distinct signal transducers on the ER membrane. Inositol-requiring protein 1 (IRE1), the most conserved signal transducer, plays a key role in ER stress-mediated signaling. During ER stress, IRE1 initiates two discrete signaling cascades: the "adaptive" signaling cascade mediated by the XBP1 pathway and the "alarm" signaling cascade mediated by stress-activated protein kinase pathways. Fine-tuning of the balance between the adaptive and alarm signals contributes significantly to cellular fate under ER stress. Thus, we propose that the design of high-throughput screening (HTS) assays to selectively monitor IRE1 mediated-signaling would be desirable for drug discovery. To this end, we report the generation of stable human neural cell lines and development of cell-based HTS luciferase (Luc) reporter gene assays for the identification of pathway-specific chemical modulators of IRE1. We implemented a cell-based Luc assay using a chimeric CHOP-Gal4 transcription factor in 384-well format for monitoring IRE1 kinase-mediated p38MAPK activation and an unfolded response pathway element (URPE)-Luc cell-based assay in 1536-well format for monitoring IRE1's RNase-mediated activation of XBP1. Chemical library screening was successfully conducted with both the CHOP/Gal4-Luc cells and UPRE-Luc engineered cells. The studies demonstrate the feasibility of using these HTS assays for discovery of pathway-selective modulators of IRE1.
The fatty acid synthase (FAS) enzyme in mammalian cells is a large multidomain protein responsible for de novo synthesis of fatty acids. The steps catalyzed by FAS involve the condensation of acetyl-CoA and malonyl-CoA moieties in the presence of NADPH until palmitate is formed. Inhibition of FAS causes an accumulation of intracellular malonyl-CoA, as this metabolite is essentially committed to fatty acid synthesis once formed. Detection of intracellular metabolites for screening can be problematic due to a lack of appropriate tools, but here we describe a targeted liquid chromatography – mass spectroscopy (LCMS) method to directly measure endogenous levels of malonyl-CoA to drive a drug development structure–activity relationship (SAR) screening cascade. Our process involves preparation of samples at 96-well scale, normalization postpermeabilization via use of a whole-well imaging platform, and the LCMS detection methodology. The assay is amenable to multiplexing cellular endpoints, has a typical Z′ of >0.6, and has high reproducibility of EC50 values.
Improvements needed for automated crystallography include crystal detection and crystal harvesting. A technique that uses acoustic droplet ejection to harvest crystals was previously reported. Here a method is described for using the same acoustic instrument to detect protein crystals and to monitor crystal growth. Acoustic pulses were used to monitor the progress of crystallization trials and to detect the presence and location of protein crystals. Crystals were detected, and crystallization was monitored in aqueous solutions and in lipidic cubic phase. Using a commercially available acoustic instrument, crystals measuring ~150 µm or larger were readily detected. Simple laboratory techniques were used to increase the sensitivity to 50 µm by suspending the crystals away from the plastic surface of the crystallization plate. This increased the sensitivity by separating the strong signal generated by the plate bottom that can mask the signal from small protein crystals. It is possible to further boost the acoustic reflection from small crystals by reducing the wavelength of the incident sound pulse, but our current instrumentation does not allow this option. In the future, commercially available sound emitting transducers with a characteristic frequency near 300 MHz should detect and monitor the growth of individual 3 µm crystals.
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