Synthetic Biology Approaches to Engineering Human Cells

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Synthetic Biology Approaches to Engineering Human Cells

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Title: Synthetic Biology Approaches to Engineering Human Cells
Author: Lohmueller, Jason Jakob
Citation: Lohmueller, Jason Jakob. 2013. Synthetic Biology Approaches to Engineering Human Cells. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: The field of synthetic biology seeks to revolutionize the scope and scale of what is currently feasible by genetic engineering. By focusing on engineering general signal processing platforms using modular genetic parts and devices rather than `one-off' systems, synthetic biologists aim to enable plug-and-play genetic circuits readily adaptable to different contexts. For mammalian systems, the goal of synthetic biology is to create sophisticated research tools and gene therapies. While several isolated parts and devices exist for mammalian systems there are few signal processing platforms available. We addressed this need by creating a transcriptional regulatory framework using programmable zinc finger (ZF) and TALE transcription factors and a conceptual framework for logical T-cell receptor signaling. We first engineered a large set of ZF activator and repressor transcription factors and response promoters. ZFs are scalable elements as they can be engineered to bind to given DNA sequences. We demonstrated that we could ‘tune’ the activity of the ZF transcription factors by fusing them to protein homo-dimerization domains and by modifying their response promoters. We also created OR and NOR logic gates using hybrid promoters and AND and NAND logic gates by reconstituting split zinc finger activators and repressors with split inteins. Next, using a computational algorithm we designed a series of TALE transcriptional activators and repressors predicted to be orthogonal to all 2kb human promoter regions and thus minimally interfere with endogenous gene expression. TALEs can be designed to bind to even longer DNA sequences than ZFs, however off-target binding is predicted to occur. We tested our computationally designed TALEs in human cells demonstrating that they activated their intended target genes, but not their likely endogenous off-target genes, nor synthetic promoters with binding site mismatches. Finally, we created a conceptual framework for logical T-cell-mediated killing of target cells expressing combinations of surface antigens. The systems consist of conventional and novel chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) containing inhibitory or co-stimulatory cytoplasmic signaling domains. In co-incubation assays of engineered T-cells with target cells we demonstrated a functioning OR-Gate system and progress toward development of a functional NOT-Gate system using the CD300a and CD45 inhibitory receptor domains.
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