• Characterization of the all-E. coli transcription-translation system myTXTL by mass spectrometry.

      Garenne, David; Beisel, Chase L; Noireaux, Vincent; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Wiley, 2019-05-14)
      Rationale: Cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) is becoming a popular technology to prototype and engineer biological systems outside living organisms. TXTL relies commonly on a cytoplasmic extract that provides the molecular components necessary to recapitulate gene expression in vitro, where most of the available systems are derived from E. coli. The proteinic and enzymatic composition of lysates, however, is typically unknown. In this work, we analyzed by mass spectrometry the molecular constituents of the all-E. coli TXTL platform myTXTL prepared from the E. coli strain BL21 Rosetta2. Methods: Standard TXTL reactions were assembled and executed for 10-12 hours at 29°C. In addition to a no-DNA control, four DNA programs were executed in separate reactions to synthesize the reporter protein deGFP as well as the phages MS2, phix174 and T7. The reactions were treated according to standard procedures (trypsin treatment, cleaning) before performing liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS). Data analysis was performed using Sequest and protein identification using Scaffold. Results: A total of 500-800 proteins were identified by LC/MS in the blank reactions. We organized the most abundant protein sets into several categories pertaining, in particular, to transcription, translation and ATP regeneration. The synthesis of deGFP was easily measured. The major structural proteins that compose the three phages MS2, phix174 and T7 were also identified. Conclusions: Mass spectrometry is a practical tool to characterize biochemical solutions as complex as a cell-free TXTL reaction and to determine the presence of synthesized proteins. The data presented demonstrate that the composition of TXTL based on lysates can be used to validate some underlying molecular mechanisms implicated in cell-free protein synthesis. The composition of the lysate shows significant differences with respect to similar studies on other E. coli strains.
    • A detailed cell-free transcription-translation-based assay to decipher CRISPR protospacer-adjacent motifs.

      Maxwell, Colin S; Jacobsen, Thomas; Marshall, Ryan; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2018-02-24)
      The RNA-guided nucleases derived from the CRISPR-Cas systems in bacteria and archaea have found numerous applications in biotechnology, including genome editing, imaging, and gene regulation. However, the discovery of novel Cas nucleases has outpaced their characterization and subsequent exploitation. A key step in characterizing Cas nucleases is determining which protospacer-adjacent motif (PAM) sequences they recognize. Here, we report advances to an in vitro method based on an E. coli cell-free transcription-translation system (TXTL) to rapidly elucidate PAMs recognized by Cas nucleases. The method obviates the need for cloning Cas nucleases or gRNAs, does not require the purification of protein or RNA, and can be performed in less than a day. To advance our previously published method, we incorporated an internal GFP cleavage control to assess the extent of library cleavage as well as Sanger sequencing of the cleaved library to assess PAM depletion prior to next-generation sequencing. We also detail the methods needed to construct all relevant DNA constructs, and how to troubleshoot the assay. We finally demonstrate the technique by determining PAM sequences recognized by the Neisseria meningitidis Cas9, revealing subtle sequence requirements of this highly specific PAM. The overall method offers a rapid means to identify PAMs recognized by diverse CRISPR nucleases, with the potential to greatly accelerate our ability to characterize and harness novel CRISPR nucleases across their many uses.
    • Distinct timescales of RNA regulators enable the construction of a genetic pulse generator.

      Westbrook, Alexandra; Tang, Xun; Marshall, Ryan; Maxwell, Colin S; Chappell, James; Agrawal, Deepak K; Dunlop, Mary J; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; Lucks, Julius; et al. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019-01-13)
      To build complex genetic networks with predictable behaviours, synthetic biologists use libraries of modular parts that can be characterized in isolation and assembled together to create programmable higher-order functions. Characterization experiments and computational models for gene regulatory parts operating in isolation are routinely employed to predict the dynamics of interconnected parts and guide the construction of new synthetic devices. Here, we individually characterize two modes of RNA-based transcriptional regulation, using small transcription activating RNAs (STARs) and CRISPR interference (CRISPRi), and show how their distinct regulatory timescales can be used to engineer a composed feedforward loop that creates a pulse of gene expression. We use a cell-free transcription-translation system (TXTL) to rapidly characterize the system, and we apply Bayesian inference to extract kinetic parameters for an ODE-based mechanistic model. We then demonstrate in simulation and verify with TXTL experiments that the simultaneous regulation of a single gene target with STARs and CRISPRi leads to a pulse of gene expression. Our results suggest the modularity of the two regulators in an integrated genetic circuit, and we anticipate that construction and modelling frameworks that can leverage this modularity will become increasingly important as synthetic circuits increase in complexity. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    • An educational module to explore CRISPR technologies with a cell-free transcription-translation system

      Collias, Daphne; Marshall, Ryan; Collins, Scott P.; Beisel, Chase L.; Noireaux, Vincent; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Oxford Academic, 2019-05-21)
      Within the last 6 years, CRISPR-Cas systems have transitioned from adaptive defense systems in bacteria and archaea to revolutionary genome-editing tools. The resulting CRISPR technologies have driven innovations for treating genetic diseases and eradicating human pests while raising societal questions about gene editing in human germline cells as well as crop plants. Bringing CRISPR into the classroom therefore offers a means to expose students to cutting edge technologies and to promote discussions about ethical questions at the intersection of science and society. However, working with these technologies in a classroom setting has been difficult because typical experiments rely on cellular systems such as bacteria or mammalian cells. We recently reported the use of an E. coli cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) system that simplifies the demonstration and testing of CRISPR technologies with shorter experiments and limited equipment. Here, we describe three educational modules intended to expose undergraduate students to CRISPR technologies using TXTL. The three sequential modules comprise (i) designing the RNAs that guide DNA targeting, (ii) measuring DNA cleavage activity in TXTL and (iii) testing how mutations to the targeting sequence or RNA backbone impact DNA binding and cleavage. The modules include detailed protocols, questions for group discussions or individual evaluation, and lecture slides to introduce CRISPR and TXTL. We expect these modules to allow students to experience the power and promise of CRISPR technologies in the classroom and to engage with their instructor and peers about the opportunities and potential risks for society.
    • An enhanced assay to characterize anti-CRISPR proteins using a cell-free transcription-translation system.

      Wandera, Katharina G; Collins, Scott P; Wimmer, Franziska; Marshall, Ryan; Noireaux, Vincent; Beisel, Chase L; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier, 2019-05-21)
      The characterization of CRISPR-Cas immune systems in bacteria was quickly followed by the discovery of anti-CRISPR proteins (Acrs) in bacteriophages. These proteins block different steps of CRISPR-based immunity and, as some inhibit Cas nucleases, can offer tight control over CRISPR technologies. While Acrs have been identified against a few CRISPR-Cas systems, likely many more await discovery and application. Here, we report a rapid and scalable method for characterizing putative Acrs against Cas nucleases using an E. coli-derived cell-free transcription-translation system. Using known Acrs against type II Cas9 nucleases as models, we demonstrate how the method can be used to measure the inhibitory activity of individual Acrs in under two days. We also show how the method can overcome non-specific inhibition of gene expression observed for some Acrs. In total, the method should accelerate the interrogation and application of Acrs as CRISPR-Cas inhibitors.
    • Rapid Testing of CRISPR Nucleases and Guide RNAs in an Cell-Free Transcription-Translation System.

      Marshall, Ryan; Beisel, Chase L; Noireaux, Vincent; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Elsevier (CellPress), 2020-06-03)
      We present a protocol to rapidly test DNA binding and cleavage activity by CRISPR nucleases using cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL). Nuclease activity is assessed by adding DNA encoding a nuclease, a guide RNA, and a targeted reporter to a TXTL reaction and by measuring the fluorescence for several h. The reactions, performed in a few microliters, allow for parallel testing of many nucleases and guide RNAs. The protocol includes representative results for (d)Cas9 from Streptococcus pyogenes targeting a GFP reporter gene. For complete information on the generation and use of this protocol, please refer to the paper by Marshall et al. (2018).