Single-cell spatial programming in a microbe

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David Chen, Adam Arkin, Michel Maharbiz et al

UC-B/UCSF Graduate Program in Bioengineering, United States

While synthetic biology demonstrations have traditionally been performed in well-mixed liquid cultures, novel applications may require spatial control using cells that communicate with one another. Cellular communication in bacterial species can be currently done with diffusible molecules, but such systems suffer from limited spatial resolution. We aim to bring touch-based communication, which mammalian cells characteristically use for precise developmental control, to bacterial cells. The contact-dependent inhibition (CDI) system was recently discovered that allows Escherichia coli cells to block growth of touching E. coli cells. Utilizing the scaffolding behavior of the CDI system, we engineer a cascade that ultimately results in control of gene expression instead of growth inhibition. We demonstrate the ability to control gene expression in neighboring E. coli cells with simple patterns. Our technology allows the development of spatial programming with micron-level resolution and the study of single-cell signaling rules used in tissue development.