Naturally competent

Ichiro Matsumura of Emory University gave the latest Synthetic Biology Working Group / SynBERC distinguished lecture at MIT yesterday; I was glad to hear his talk. He discussed some of his recent papers, but what jumped out at me most was his call for synthetic biologists to adopt Acinetobacter baylyli ADP1, a gram-negative soil gammaproteobacterium, as a uniquely powerful “chassis” for synthetic biology.

This bug is naturally competent: you can (apparently) just drop in some double-stranded DNA into a log-phase culture, and ADP1 takes it up and treats it as its own. ADP1 also does recombination, so if you design your double-stranded DNA properly, it is easy to get your DNA to insert into the ADP chromosome.

Prof. Matsumura’s lab has also developed a “universal” plasmid. Without species-specific modifications or tuning, it can drive protein expression in a slew of widely divergent bacteria, from Acinetobacter, to E. coli, Bacillus, and more.

Add these two things together, and we are getting closer to a laboratory system for manipulating DNA which does not depend on restriction enzymes or ligases, and in which it is effortless to try out constructs in many different species, not just yeast or E. coli. Yes! Sign me up! A few other workers have developed similar systems before (for example, Daniel Court’s “recombineering” platform) but, at least on paper, the Acinetobacter system looks to be quite a bit simpler and more robust. If you are hungry for more details, check out Prof. Matsumura’s recent conference abstracts.


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