Imperial College London


Faculty of MedicineDepartment of Medicine

Chair in Protein Crystallography



+44 (0)20 7594 5327p.freemont




259Sir Alexander Fleming BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Publication Type

248 results found

Kelwick RJR, Ricci L, Chee SM, Bell D, Webb A, Freemont Pet al., 2019, Cell-free prototyping strategies for enhancing the sustainable production of polyhydroxyalkanoates bioplastics, Synthetic Biology, Vol: 3, ISSN: 2397-7000

The polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are microbially-produced biopolymers that could potentially be used as sustainable alternatives to oil-derived plastics. However, PHAs are currently more expensive to produce than oil-derived plastics. Therefore, more efficient production processes would be desirable. Cell-free metabolic engineering strategies have already been used to optimise several biosynthetic pathways and we envisioned that cell-free strategies could be used for optimising PHAs biosynthetic pathways. To this end, we developed several Escherichia coli cell-free systems for in vitro prototyping PHAs biosynthetic operons, and also for screening relevant metabolite recycling enzymes. Furthermore, we customised our cell-free reactions through the addition of whey permeate, an industrial waste that has been previously used to optimise in vivo PHAs production. We found that the inclusion of an optimal concentration of whey permeate enhanced relative cell-free GFPmut3b production by ∼50%. In cell-free transcription-translation prototyping reactions, GC-MS quantification of cell-free 3-hydroxybutyrate (3HB) production revealed differences between the activities of the Native ΔPhaC_C319A (1.18 ±0.39 µM), C104 ΔPhaC_C319A (4.62 ±1.31 µM) and C101 ΔPhaC_C319A (2.65 ±1.27 µM) phaCAB operons that were tested. Interestingly, the most active operon, C104 produced higher levels of PHAs (or PHAs monomers) than the Native phaCAB operon in both in vitro and in vivo assays. Coupled cell-free biotransformation/transcription-translation reactions produced greater yields of 3HB (32.87 ±6.58 µM) and these reactions were also used to characterise a Clostridium propionicum Acetyl-CoA recycling enzyme. Together, these data demonstrate that cell-free approaches complement in vivo workflows for identifying additional strategies for optimising PHAs production.

Journal article

Hillson N, Caddick M, Cai Y, Carrasco JA, Chang MW, Curach NC, Bell DJ, Feuvre RL, Friedman DC, Fu X, Gold ND, Herrgård MJ, Holowko MB, Johnson JR, Johnson RA, Keasling JD, Kitney RI, Kondo A, Liu C, Martin VJJ, Menolascina F, Ogino C, Patron NJ, Pavan M, Poh CL, Pretorius IS, Rosser SJ, Scrutton NS, Storch M, Tekotte H, Travnik E, Vickers CE, Yew WS, Yuan Y, Zhao H, Freemont PSet al., 2019, Author Correction: Building a global alliance of biofoundries., Nat Commun, Vol: 10

The original version of this Comment contained errors in the legend of Figure 2, in which the locations of the fifteenth and sixteenth GBA members were incorrectly given as '(15) Australian Genome Foundry, Macquarie University; (16) Australian Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing, University of Queensland.'. The correct version replaces this with '(15) Australian Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing (AusFAB), University of Queensland and (16) Australian Genome Foundry, Macquarie University'. This has been corrected in both the PDF and HTML versions of the Comment.

Journal article

Lai H-E, Canavan C, Cameron L, Moore S, Danchenko M, Kuiken T, Sekeyová Z, Freemont PSet al., 2019, Synthetic Biology and the United Nations., Trends Biotechnol

Synthetic biology is a rapidly emerging interdisciplinary field of science and engineering that aims to redesign living systems through reprogramming genetic information. The field has catalysed global debate among policymakers and publics. Here we describe how synthetic biology relates to these international deliberations, particularly the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Journal article

Hillson N, Caddick M, Cai Y, Carrasco JA, Chang MW, Curach NC, Bell DJ, Le Feuvre R, Friedman DC, Fu X, Gold ND, Herrgard MJ, Holowko MB, Johnson JR, Johnson RA, Keasling JD, Kitney RI, Kondo A, Liu C, Martin VJJ, Menolascina F, Ogino C, Patron NJ, Pavan M, Poh CL, Pretorius IS, Rosser SJ, Scrutton NS, Storch M, Tekotte H, Travnik E, Vickers CE, Yew WS, Yuan Y, Zhao H, Freemont PSet al., 2019, Building a global alliance of biofoundries, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, Vol: 10, ISSN: 2041-1723

Journal article

Thaore V, Moore S, Polizzi K, Freemont P, Shah N, Kontoravdi Cet al., Cell-free multi-enzyme system for the industrial production of fine chemicals, Chemical Engineering Day UK 2019

Conference paper

Suckling L, McFarlane C, Sawyer C, Chambers SP, Kitney RI, McClymont DW, Freemont PSet al., 2019, Miniaturisation of high-throughput plasmid DNA library preparation for next-generation sequencing using multifactorial optimisation, Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, Vol: 4, Pages: 57-66, ISSN: 2405-805X

High-throughput preparation of plasmid DNA libraries for next-generation sequencing (NGS) is an important capability for molecular biology laboratories. In particular, it is an essential quality control (QC) check when large numbers of plasmid variants are being generated. Here, we describe the use of the Design of Experiments (DOE) methodology to optimise the miniaturised preparation of plasmid DNA libraries for NGS, using the Illumina® Nextera XT technology and the Labcyte Echo® acoustic liquid dispensing system. Furthermore, we describe methods which can be implemented as a QC check for identifying the presence of genomic DNA (gDNA) in plasmid DNA samples and the subsequent shearing of the gDNA, which otherwise prevents the acoustic transfer of plasmid DNA. This workflow enables the preparation of plasmid DNA libraries which yield high-quality sequencing data.

Journal article

Kylilis N, Riangrungroj P, Lai H-E, Salema V, Fernández LÁ, Stan G-B, Freemont PS, Polizzi KMet al., 2019, Whole-cell biosensor with tuneable limit of detection enables low-cost agglutination assays for medical diagnostic applications, ACS Sensors, Vol: 4, Pages: 370-378, ISSN: 2379-3694

Whole-cell biosensors can form the basis of affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tests that can be readily deployed for point-of-care (POC) testing, but to date, the detection of analytes such as proteins that cannot easily diffuse across the cell membrane has been challenging. Here we developed a novel biosensing platform based on cell agglutination using an E. coli whole-cell biosensor surface-displaying nanobodies which bind selectively to a target protein analyte. As a proof-of-concept, we show the feasibility of this design can detect a model analyte at nanomolar concentrations. Moreover, we show that the design architecture is flexible by building assays optimized to detect a range of model analyte concentrations using straight-forward design rules and a mathematical model. Finally, we re-engineer our whole-cell biosensor for the detection of a medically relevant biomarker by the display of two different nanbodies against human fibrinogen and demonstrate a detection limit as low as 10 pM in diluted human plasma. Overall, we demonstrate that our agglutination technology fulfills the requirement of POC testing by combining low-cost nanobody production, customizable detection range and low detection limits. This technology has the potential to produce affordable diagnostics for field-testing in the developing world, emergency or disaster relief sites as well as routine medical testing and personalized medicine.

Journal article

Tosi T, Hoshiga F, Millership C, Singh R, Eldrid C, Patin D, Mengin-Lecreulx D, Thalassinos K, Freemont P, Grundling Aet al., 2019, Inhibition of the Staphylococcus aureus c-di-AMP cyclase DacA by direct interaction with the phosphoglucosamine mutase GlmM, PLoS Pathogens, Vol: 15, ISSN: 1553-7366

c-di-AMP is an important second messenger molecule that plays a pivotal role in regulating fundamental cellular processes, including osmotic and cell wall homeostasis in many Gram-positive organisms. In the opportunistic human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, c-di-AMP is produced by the membrane-anchored DacA enzyme. Inactivation of this enzyme leads to a growth arrest under standard laboratory growth conditions and a re-sensitization of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) strains to ß-lactam antibiotics. The gene coding for DacA is part of the conserved three-gene dacA/ybbR/glmM operon that also encodes the proposed DacA regulator YbbR and the essential phosphoglucosamine mutase GlmM, which is required for the production of glucosamine-1-phosphate, an early intermediate of peptidoglycan synthesis. These three proteins are thought to form a complex in vivo and, in this manner, help to fine-tune the cellular c-di-AMP levels. To further characterize this important regulatory complex, we conducted a comprehensive structural and functional analysis of the S. aureus DacA and GlmM enzymes by determining the structures of the S. aureus GlmM enzyme and the catalytic domain of DacA. Both proteins were found to be dimers in solution as well as in the crystal structures. Further site-directed mutagenesis, structural and enzymatic studies showed that multiple DacA dimers need to interact for enzymatic activity. We also show that DacA and GlmM form a stable complex in vitro and that S. aureus GlmM, but not Escherichia coli or Pseudomonas aeruginosa GlmM, acts as a strong inhibitor of DacA function without the requirement of any additional cellular factor. Based on Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) data, a model of the complex revealed that GlmM likely inhibits DacA by masking the active site of the cyclase and preventing higher oligomer formation. Together these results provide an important mechanistic insight into how c-di-AMP production can be regulated in the cell.

Journal article

Exley K, Reynolds C, Suckling L, Chee SM, Tsipa A, Freemont P, McClymont D, Kitney Ret al., 2019, Utilising datasheets for the informed automated design and build of a synthetic metabolic pathway, Journal of Biological Engineering, Vol: 13, ISSN: 1754-1611

BackgroundThe automation of modular cloning methodologies permits the assembly of many genetic designs. Utilising characterised biological parts aids in the design and redesign of genetic pathways. The characterisation information held on datasheets can be used to determine whether a biological part meets the design requirements. To manage the design of genetic pathways, researchers have turned to modelling-based computer aided design software tools.ResultAn automated workflow has been developed for the design and build of heterologous metabolic pathways. In addition, to demonstrate the powers of electronic datasheets we have developed software which can transfer part information from a datasheet to the Design of Experiment software JMP. To this end we were able to use Design of Experiment software to rationally design and test randomised samples from the design space of a lycopene pathway in E. coli. This pathway was optimised by individually modulating the promoter strength, RBS strength, and gene order targets.ConclusionThe use of standardised and characterised biological parts will empower a design-oriented synthetic biology for the forward engineering of heterologous expression systems. A Design of Experiment approach streamlines the design-build-test cycle to achieve optimised solutions in biodesign. Developed automated workflows provide effective transfer of information between characterised information (in the form of datasheets) and DoE software.

Journal article

Silhan J, Zhao Q, Boura E, Thomson H, Förster A, Tang CM, Freemont PS, Baldwin GSet al., 2018, Structural basis for recognition and repair of the 3'-phosphate by NExo, a base excision DNA repair nuclease from Neisseria meningitidis, Nucleic Acids Research, Vol: 46, Pages: 11980-11989, ISSN: 0305-1048

NExo is an enzyme from Neisseria meningitidis that is specialized in the removal of the 3'-phosphate and other 3'-lesions, which are potential blocks for DNA repair. NExo is a highly active DNA 3'-phosphatase, and although it is from the class II AP family it lacks AP endonuclease activity. In contrast, the NExo homologue NApe, lacks 3'-phosphatase activity but is an efficient AP endonuclease. These enzymes act together to protect the meningococcus from DNA damage arising mainly from oxidative stress and spontaneous base loss. In this work, we present crystal structures of the specialized 3'-phosphatase NExo bound to DNA in the presence and absence of a 3'-phosphate lesion. We have outlined the reaction mechanism of NExo, and using point mutations we bring mechanistic insights into the specificity of the 3'-phosphatase activity of NExo. Our data provide further insight into the molecular origins of plasticity in substrate recognition for this class of enzymes. From this we hypothesize that these specialized enzymes lead to enhanced efficiency and accuracy of DNA repair and that this is important for the biological niche occupied by this bacterium.

Journal article

Webb AJ, Allan F, Kelwick R, Jensen K, Templeton MR, Freemont Pet al., 2018, Protease-based bioreporters for the detection of schistosome cercariae, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) 67th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Conference paper

Kylilis N, Riangrungroj P, Lai H-E, Salema V, Fernandez LA, Stan G-B, Freemont P, Polizzi Ket al., 2018, A low-cost biological agglutination assay for medical diagnostic applications, Publisher: American Chemical Society

Affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tests that can be readily deployed for point-of-care (POC) testing are key in addressing challenges in the diagnosis of medical conditions and for improving global health in general. Ideally, POC diagnostic tests should be highly selective for the biomarker, user-friendly, have a flexible design architecture and a low cost of production. Here we developed a novel agglutination assay based on whole E. coli cells surface-displaying nanobodies which bind selectively to a target protein analyte. As a proof-of-concept, we show the feasibility of this design as a new diagnostic platform by the detection of a model analyte at nanomolar concentrations. Moreover, we show that the design architecture is flexible by building assays optimized to detect a range of model analyte concentrations supported using straight-forward design rules and a mathematical model. Finally, we re-engineer E. coli cells for the detection of a medically relevant biomarker by the display of two different antibodies against the human fibrinogen and demonstrate a detection limit as low as 10 pM in diluted human plasma. Overall, we demonstrate that our agglutination technology fulfills the requirement of POC testing by combining low-cost nanobody production, customizable detection range and low detection limits. This technology has the potential to produce affordable diagnostics for both field-testing in the developing world, emergency or disaster relief sites as well as routine medical testing and personalized medicine.

Working paper

Rajakumar PD, Gower G, Suckling L, Kitney R, McClymont D, Freemont Pet al., 2018, Rapid prototyping platform for Saccharomyces cerevisiae using computer-aided genetic design enabled by parallel software and workcell platform development, Slas Technology, ISSN: 2472-6303

Biofoundries have enabled the ability to automate the construction of genetic constructs using computer-aided design. In this study, we have developed the methodology required to abstract and automate the construction of yeast-compatible designs. We demonstrate the use of our in-house software tool, AMOS, to coordinate with design software, JMP, and robotic liquid handling platforms to successfully manage the construction of a library of 88 yeast expression plasmids. In this proof-of-principle study, we used three fluorescent genes as proxy for three enzyme coding sequences. Our platform has been designed to quickly iterate around a design cycle of four protein coding sequences per plasmid, with larger numbers possible with multiplexed genome integrations in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This work highlights how developing scalable new biotechnology applications requires a close integration between software development, liquid handling robotics, and protocol development.

Journal article

Thaore V, Moore S, Polizzi K, Freemont P, Shah N, Kontoravdi Cet al., Techno-economic evaluation of a cell-free syntheticbiochemistry route for raspberry ketone production atindustrial scale, Vaishali Thaore

Conference paper

Freemont PS, Moore S, MacDonald J, Wienecke S, Ishwarbhai A, Tsipa A, Aw R, Kylilis N, Bell D, McCymont D, Jensen K, Polizzi K, Biedendieck Ret al., 2018, Rapid acquisition and model-based analysis of cell-free transcription-translation reactions from non-model bacteria, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol: 115, Pages: E4340-E4349, ISSN: 0027-8424

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.

Journal article

Hazel P, Kroll SHB, Bondke A, Barbazanges M, Patel H, Fuchter MJ, Coombes RC, Ali S, Barrett AGM, Freemont PSet al., 2018, Corrigendum: Inhibitor selectivity for cyclin-dependent kinase 7: a structural, thermodynamic, and modelling study, ChemMedChem, Vol: 13, Pages: 207-207, ISSN: 1860-7187

Journal article

Freemont PS, Salih O, He S, Planamente S, Stach L, MacDonald J, Manoli E, Scheres S, Filloux Aet al., 2018, Atomic Structure of Type VI Contractile Sheath from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Structure, Vol: 26, Pages: 329-336.e3, ISSN: 0969-2126

Pseudomonas aeruginosa has three type VI secretion systems (T6SSs), H1-, H2-, and H3-T6SS, each belonging to a distinct group. The two T6SS components, TssB/VipA and TssC/VipB, assemble to form tubules that conserve structural/functional homology with tail sheaths of contractile bacteriophages and pyocins. Here, we used cryoelectron microscopy to solve the structure of the H1-T6SS P. aeruginosa TssB1C1 sheath at 3.3 Å resolution. Our structure allowed us to resolve some features of the T6SS sheath that were not resolved in the Vibrio cholerae VipAB and Francisella tularensis IglAB structures. Comparison with sheath structures from other contractile machines, including T4 phage and R-type pyocins, provides a better understanding of how these systems have conserved similar functions/mechanisms despite evolution. We used the P. aeruginosa R2 pyocin as a structural template to build an atomic model of the TssB1C1 sheath in its extended conformation, allowing us to propose a coiled-spring-like mechanism for T6SS sheath contraction.

Journal article

Lai H-E, Moore S, Polizzi K, Freemont Pet al., 2018, EcoFlex: A Multifunctional MoClo Kit for E. coli Synthetic Biology., Pages: 429-444

Development of advanced synthetic biology tools is always in demand since they act as a platform technology to enable rapid prototyping of biological constructs in a high-throughput manner. EcoFlex is a modular cloning (MoClo) kit for Escherichia coli and is based on the Golden Gate principles, whereby Type IIS restriction enzymes (BsaI, BsmBI, BpiI) are used to construct modular genetic elements (biological parts) in a bottom-up approach. Here, we describe a collection of plasmids that stores various biological parts including promoters, RBSs, terminators, ORFs, and destination vectors, each encoding compatible overhangs allowing hierarchical assembly into single transcription units or a full-length polycistronic operon or biosynthetic pathway. A secondary module cloning site is also available for pathway optimization, in order to limit library size if necessary. Here, we show the utility of EcoFlex using the violacein biosynthesis pathway as an example.

Book chapter

Lai H-E, Obled AMC, Chee SM, Morgan RM, Sharma SV, Moore SJ, Polizzi KM, Goss RJM, Freemont PSet al., 2017, A GenoChemetic strategy for derivatization of the violacein natural product scaffold

<jats:p>Integrating synthetic chemistry with synthetic biology allows rapid access to xenobiotic compounds which may provide improved therapeutic activity. By supplementing an <jats:italic>Escherichia coli</jats:italic> strain expressing the violacein biosynthesis pathway with eight tryptophan substrate analogues or tryptophan halogenase RebH <jats:italic>in vivo</jats:italic>, 68 new-to-nature analogues of violacein were generated. Furthermore, 20 new derivatives were generated from brominated analogues via Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reaction directly using the crude extract without prior purification. Herein, we demonstrate a flexible and rapid approach to access diverse chemical space that can be applied to a wide range of natural product scaffolds.</jats:p>

Thesis dissertation

Wen KY, Cameron L, Chappell J, Jensen K, Bell DJ, Kelwick R, Kopniczky M, Davies JC, Filloux A, Freemont PSet al., 2017, A Cell-Free Biosensor for Detecting Quorum Sensing Molecules in P. aeruginosa-Infected Respiratory Samples., ACS Synthetic Biology, Vol: 6, Pages: 2293-2301, ISSN: 2161-5063

Synthetic biology designed cell-free biosensors are a promising new tool for the detection of clinically relevant biomarkers in infectious diseases. Here, we report that a modular DNA-encoded biosensor in cell-free protein expression systems can be used to measure a bacterial biomarker of Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection from human sputum samples. By optimizing the cell-free system and sample extraction, we demonstrate that the quorum sensing molecule 3-oxo-C12-HSL in sputum samples from cystic fibrosis lungs can be quantitatively measured at nanomolar levels using our cell-free biosensor system, and is comparable to LC-MS measurements of the same samples. This study further illustrates the potential of modular cell-free biosensors as rapid, low-cost detection assays that can inform clinical practice.

Journal article

freemont P, Stach L, 2017, The AAA+ ATPase p97, a cellular multi-tool, Biochemical Journal, Vol: 474, Pages: 2953-2976, ISSN: 1470-8728

The AAA+ (ATPases associated with diverse cellular activities) ATPase p97 is essential to a wide range of cellular functions, including endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation, membrane fusion, NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells) activation and chromatin-associated processes, which are regulated by ubiquitination. p97 acts downstream from ubiquitin signaling events and utilizes the energy from ATP hydrolysis to extract its substrate proteins from cellular structures or multiprotein complexes. A multitude of p97 cofactors have evolved which are essential to p97 function. Ubiquitin-interacting domains and p97-binding domains combine to form bi-functional cofactors, whose complexes with p97 enable the enzyme to interact with a wide range of ubiquitinated substrates. A set of mutations in p97 have been shown to cause the multisystem proteinopathy inclusion body myopathy associated with Paget's disease of bone and frontotemporal dementia. In addition, p97 inhibition has been identified as a promising approach to provoke proteotoxic stress in tumors. In this review, we will describe the cellular processes governed by p97, how the cofactors interact with both p97 and its ubiquitinated substrates, p97 enzymology and the current status in developing p97 inhibitors for cancer therapy.

Journal article

Smith WD, Bardin E, Cameron L, Edmondson CL, Farrant KV, Martin I, Murphy RA, Soren O, Turnbull AR, Wierre-Gore N, Alton EW, Bundy JG, Bush A, Connett GJ, Faust SN, Filloux A, Freemont PS, Jones AL, Takats Z, Webb JS, Williams HD, Davies JCet al., 2017, Current and future therapies for Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection in patients with cystic fibrosis, FEMS Microbiology Letters, Vol: 364, ISSN: 0378-1097

Pseudomonas aeruginosa opportunistically infects the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis and causes significant morbidity and mortality. Initial infection can often be eradicated though requires prompt detection and adequate treatment. Intermittent and then chronic infection occurs in the majority of patients. Better detection of P. aeruginosa infection using biomarkers may enable more successful eradication before chronic infection is established. In chronic infection P. aeruginosa adapts to avoid immune clearance and resist antibiotics via efflux pumps, β-lactamase expression, reduced porins and switching to a biofilm lifestyle. The optimal treatment strategies for P. aeruginosa infection are still being established, and new antibiotic formulations such as liposomal amikacin, fosfomycin in combination with tobramycin and inhaled levofloxacin are being explored. Novel agents such as the alginate oligosaccharide OligoG, cysteamine, bacteriophage, nitric oxide, garlic oil and gallium may be useful as anti-pseudomonal strategies, and immunotherapy to prevent infection may have a role in the future. New treatments that target the primary defect in cystic fibrosis, recently licensed for use, have been associated with a fall in P. aeruginosa infection prevalence. Understanding the mechanisms for this could add further strategies for treating P. aeruginosa in future.

Journal article

Moore SJ, macdonald JT, freemont PS, 2017, Cell-free synthetic biology for in vitro prototype engineering, Biochemical Society Transactions, Vol: 45, Pages: 785-791, ISSN: 1470-8752

Cell-free transcription–translation is an expandingfield in synthetic biology as a rapidprototyping platform for blueprinting the design of synthetic biological devices. Exemplarefforts include translation of prototype designs into medical test kits for on-site identifica-tion of viruses (Zika and Ebola), while gene circuit cascades can be tested, debuggedand re-designed within rapid turnover times. Coupled with mathematical modelling, thisdiscipline lends itself towards the precision engineering of new synthetic life. The nextstages of cell-free look set to unlock new microbial hosts that remain slow to engineerand unsuited to rapid iterative design cycles. It is hoped that the development of suchsystems will provide new tools to aid the transition from cell-free prototype designs tofunctioning synthetic genetic circuits and engineered natural product pathways in livingcells.

Journal article

Freemont P, 2017, Synthesising Scientists, Biologist, Vol: 64, Pages: 22-25, ISSN: 0006-3347

This summer, thousands of high school students, undergraduates and academics from around the world will be engineering novel biological devices in preparation for the iGEM competition in Boston. The Biologist takes a look at what makes this competition so special.

Journal article

McClymont DW, Freemont PS, 2017, With all due respect to Maholo, lab automation isn't anthropomorphic, NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY, Vol: 35, Pages: 312-314, ISSN: 1087-0156

Journal article

Moore SJ, Lai HE, Needham H, Polizzi KM, Freemont PSet al., 2017, Streptomyces venezuelae TX-TL - a next generation cell-free synthetic biology tool, Biotechnology Journal, Vol: 12, ISSN: 1860-7314

Streptomyces venezuelae is a promising chassis in synthetic biology for fine chemical and secondary metabolite pathway engineering. The potential of S. venezuelae could be further realized by expanding its capability with the introduction of its own in vitro transcription-translation (TX-TL) system. TX-TL is a fast and expanding technology for bottom-up design of complex gene expression tools, biosensors and protein manufacturing. Herein, we introduce a S. venezuelae TX-TL platform by reporting a streamlined protocol for cell-extract preparation, demonstrating high-yield synthesis of a codon-optimized sfGFP reporter and the prototyping of a synthetic tetracycline-inducible promoter in S. venezuelae TX-TL based on the tetO-TetR repressor system. The aim of this system is to provide a host for the homologous production of exotic enzymes from Actinobacteria secondary metabolism in vitro. As an example, the authors demonstrate the soluble synthesis of a selection of enzymes (12-70 kDa) from the Streptomyces rimosus oxytetracycline pathway.

Journal article

Goers L, Ainsworth C, Goey CH, Kontoravdi, Freemont PS, Polizzi KMet al., 2017, Whole-cell Escherichia coli lactate biosensor for monitoring mammalian cell cultures during biopharmaceutical production, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Vol: 114, Pages: 1290-1300, ISSN: 1097-0290

Many high-value added recombinant proteins, such as therapeutic glycoproteins, are produced using mammalian cell cultures. In order to optimise the productivity of these cultures it is important to monitor cellular metabolism, for example the utilisation of nutrients and the accumulation of metabolic waste products. One metabolic waste product of interest is lactic acid (lactate), overaccumulation of which can decrease cellular growth and protein production. Current methods for the detection of lactate are limited in terms of cost, sensitivity, and robustness. Therefore, we developed a whole-cell Escherichia coli lactate biosensor based on the lldPRD operon and successfully used it to monitor lactate concentration in mammalian cell cultures. Using real samples and analytical validation we demonstrate that our biosensor can be used for absolute quantification of metabolites in complex samples with high accuracy, sensitivity and robustness. Importantly, our whole-cell biosensor was able to detect lactate at concentrations more than two orders of magnitude lower than the industry standard method, making it useful for monitoring lactate concentrations in early phase culture. Given the importance of lactate in a variety of both industrial and clinical contexts we anticipate that our whole-cell biosensor can be used to address a range of interesting biological questions. It also serves as a blueprint for how to capitalise on the wealth of genetic operons for metabolite sensing available in Nature for the development of other whole-cell biosensors.

Journal article

Webb AJ, Kelwick R, Freemont PS, 2017, Opportunities for applying whole-cell bioreporters towards parasite detection, Microbial Biotechnology, Vol: 10, Pages: 244-249, ISSN: 1751-7915

Journal article

Hazel P, Kroll SH, Bondke A, Barbazanges M, Patel H, Fuchter MJ, Coombes RC, Ali S, Barrett AG, Freemont PSet al., 2017, Inhibitor selectivity for cyclin-dependent kinase 7: a structural, thermodynamic, and modelling study, Chemmedchem, Vol: 12, Pages: 372-380, ISSN: 1860-7187

Deregulation of the cell cycle by mechanisms that lead to elevated activities of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) is a feature of many human diseases, cancer in particular. We identified small-molecule inhibitors that selectively inhibit CDK7, the kinase that phosphorylates cell-cycle CDKs to promote their activities. To investigate the selectivity of these inhibitors we used a combination of structural, biophysical, and modelling approaches. We determined the crystal structures of the CDK7-selective compounds ICEC0942 and ICEC0943 bound to CDK2, and used these to build models of inhibitor binding to CDK7. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of inhibitors bound to CDK2 and CDK7 generated possible models of inhibitor binding. To experimentally validate these models, we gathered isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) binding data for recombinant wild-type and binding site mutants of CDK7 and CDK2. We identified specific residues of CDK7, notably Asp155, that are involved in determining inhibitor selectivity. Our MD simulations also show that the flexibility of the G-rich and activation loops of CDK7 is likely an important determinant of inhibitor specificity similar to CDK2.

Journal article

Moore SJ, lai H-E, Kelwick R, Mei S, Bell DJ, Polizzi K, Freemont PSet al., 2016, EcoFlex - a multifunctional MoClo kit for E. coli synthetic biology, ACS Synthetic Biology, Vol: 5, Pages: 1059-1069, ISSN: 2161-5063

Golden Gate cloning is a prominent DNA assembly tool in synthetic biology for the assembly of plasmid constructs often used in combinatorial pathway optimisation, with a number of assembly kits developed specifically for yeast and plant-based expression. However, its use for synthetic biology in commonly used bacterial systems such as Escherichia coli, has surprisingly been overlooked. Here, we introduce EcoFlex a simplified modular package of DNA parts for a variety of applications in E. coli, cell-free protein synthesis, protein purification and hierarchical assembly of transcription units based on the MoClo assembly standard. The kit features a library of constitutive promoters, T7 expression, RBS strength variants, synthetic terminators, protein purification tags and fluorescence proteins. We validate EcoFlex by assembling a 68-part containing (20 genes) plasmid (31 kb), characterise in vivo and in vitro library parts, and perform combinatorial pathway assembly, using pooled libraries of either fluorescent proteins or the biosynthetic genes for the antimicrobial pigment violacein as a proof-of-concept. To minimise pathway screening, we also introduce a secondary module design site to simplify MoClo pathway optimisation. In summary, EcoFlex provides a standardised and multifunctional kit for a variety of applications in E. coli synthetic biology.

Journal article

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