Foundation technologies in synthetic biology: tools for use in understanding plant immunity
Moore, John Wallace
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The plant hormone salicylic acid (SA) is an essential activator of plant immune responses directed against biotrophic pathogens. The transcription cofactor NPR1 (Nonexpressor of pathogenesis- related (PR) genes 1) functions to transduce the SA signal into an operational response directed to limited pathogen damage. In the absence of pathogen, NPR1 protein resides in the cytoplasm as a large molecular weight oligomer held together by disulphide bonding. Initiation of defence signalling leads to changes in intracellular redox conditions that promote NPR1 momomer release. Translocation of monomeric NPR1 to the nucleus results in the activation of over 2200 immune-related genes in Arabidopsis. NPR1 lacks a canonical DNA-binding domain but is known to perform part of its regulatory function through engagement of TGA factors (bZIP transcription factor). Induction of SA-dependent signalling is invariably associated with PR-1 gene expression and accumulation of mRNA for this gene serves as a useful marker of defence activation. However, both functional redundancy and stochastic factors limit the effectiveness of standard genetic approaches used in plant research, and thus much of the hierarchal processes surrounding NPR1-dependent gene activation are not fully understood. Using a synthetic biology approach we aim to complete exploratory work and set the foundations for the development of a yeast tool that can be used to manipulate and subsequently understand NPR1 function in relation to interacting partners and gene activation. Accordingly, using this tool we sought to create a conceptual protein circuit based on theoretical plant immunity. In completing this work we have developed a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain that exhibits a highly oxidising intracellular redox environment. This was achieved by knocking out genes encoding S-nitrosoglutathione reductase (SFA1), flavohemoglobin (YHB1) and YAP1 (bZIP transcription factor), all important components in regulating cellular redox homeostasis and protein S-nitrosylation state in S. cerevisiae. Characterisation of this cell (designated Δsfa1yap1yhb1) reveals a high tolerance to such redox perturbations. Importantly, NPR1 is by default, assembled predominantly in the oligomeric form in this biological chassis. By activating two inducible inputs in the form of Arabidopsis S-nitrosoglutathione reductase (AtGSNOR) and Thioredoxin (AtTRXh5) which both function to promote NPR1 monomerisation, we have created a switch to selectively control NPR1 oligomer-monomer equilibrium. To complete the synthetic circuit, TGA3 was included, along with a modified yeast MEL1 promoter that has been customised to contain the TGA-responsive upstream activation sequence (termed the as-1 element) present in the promoter region of the PR-1 gene. Using FRET tools we were able to confirm nuclear interaction between monomeric NPR1 and TGA3, with this association appearing to induce as-1 element binding. However this process is not sufficient to activate a Luciferase (LUC) reporter gene, even when the GAL4 activation domain (GAL4 AD) is fused to NPR1. Ordinarily, a CUL3-dependent proteolysis-coupled transcription cycle is necessary to maintain efficient NPR1-dependent gene transcription in Arabidopsis. Although S. cerevisiae encodes an evolutionarily related CUL3 ortholog, examination by western blot demonstrates that NPR1 protein is stable in this cell, indicating an endogenous mechanism to degrade NPR1 is either not present or not functional in yeast. As such, this synthetic yeast tool represents a completely novel approach to identify missing components functioning in NPR1-mediated transcriptional regulation. Furthermore, in collaboration with a skilled bioinformatician, and using a rule-based stochastic modeling tool known as Kappa, we have been able to develop, for the first time, a preliminary mathematical simulation representative of NPR1-dependent gene activation that can be used as a foundation for future works.