An Optimized, Chemically Regulated Gene Expression System for Chlamydomonas

Background

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a model system for algal and cell biology and is used for biotechnological applications, such as molecular farming or biological hydrogen production. The Chlamydomonas metal-responsive CYC6 promoter is repressed by copper and induced by nickel ions. However, induction by nickel is weak in some strains, poorly reversible by chelating agents like EDTA, and causes, at high concentrations, toxicity side effects on Chlamydomonas growth. Removal of these bottlenecks will encourage the wide use of this promoter as a chemically regulated gene expression system.

Methodology

Using a codon-optimized Renilla luciferase as a reporter gene, we explored several strategies to improve the strength and reversibility of CYC6 promoter induction. Use of the first intron of the RBCS2 gene or of a modified TAP medium increases the strength of CYC6 induction up to 20-fold. In the modified medium, induction is also obtained after addition of specific copper chelators, like TETA. At low concentrations (up to 10 µM) TETA is a more efficient inducer than Ni, which becomes a very efficient inducer at higher concentrations (50 µM). Neither TETA nor Ni show toxicity effects at the concentrations used. Unlike induction by Ni, induction by TETA is completely reversible by micromolar copper concentrations, thus resulting in a transient “wave” in luciferase activity, which can be repeated in subsequent growth cycles.

Conclusions

We have worked out a chemically regulated gene expression system that can be finely tuned to produce temporally controlled “waves” in gene expression. The use of cassettes containing the CYC6 promoter, and of modified growth media, is a reliable and economically sustainable system for the temporally controlled expression of foreign genes in Chlamydomonas.

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CC BY 4.0