Branch point control at malonyl-CoA node: A computational framework to uncover the design principles of an ideal genetic-metabolic switch

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Living organism is an intelligent system coded by hierarchically-organized information to perform precisely-controlled biological functions. Biophysical models are important tools to uncover the design rules underlying complex genetic-metabolic circuit interactions. Based on a previously engineered synthetic malonyl-CoA switch (Xu et al., PNAS, 2014), we have formulated nine differential equations to unravel the design principles underlying an ideal metabolic switch to improve fatty acids production in E. coli. By interrogating the physiologically accessible parameter space, we have determined the optimal controller architecture to configure both the metabolic source pathway and metabolic sink pathway. We determined that low protein degradation rate, medium strength of metabolic inhibitory constant, high metabolic source pathway induction rate, strong binding affinity of the transcriptional activator toward the metabolic source pathway, weak binding affinity of the transcriptional repressor toward the metabolic sink pathway, and a strong cooperative interaction of transcriptional repressor toward metabolic sink pathway benefit the accumulation of the target molecule (fatty acids). The target molecule (fatty acid) production is increased from 50% to 10-folds upon application of the autonomous metabolic switch. With strong metabolic inhibitory constant, the system displays multiple steady states. Stable oscillation of metabolic intermediate is the driving force to allow the system deviate from its equilibrium state and permits bidirectional ON-OFF gene expression control, which autonomously compensates enzyme level for both the metabolic source and metabolic sink pathways. The computational framework may facilitate us to design and engineer predictable genetic-metabolic switches, quest for the optimal controller architecture of the metabolic source/sink pathways, as well as leverage autonomous oscillation as a powerful tool to engineer cell function.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00127
JournalMetabolic Engineering Communications
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomous oscillation
  • Biophysical models
  • Controller architecture
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Metabolic switches
  • Synthetic biology


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