Thermodynamics of λ-PCR Primer Design and Effective Ribosome Binding Sites

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Virginia Tech

Recombinant DNA technology has been commonly used in a number of fields to synthesize new products or generate products with a new pathway. Conventional cloning methods are expensive and require significant time and labor; λ-PCR, a new cloning method developed in the Senger lab, has a number of advantages compared to other cloning processes due to its employment of relatively inexpensive and widely available materials and time-efficiency. While the amount of lab work required for the cloning process is minimal, the importance of accurate primer design cannot be overstated. The target of this study was to create an effective procedure for λ-PCR primer design that ensures accurate cloning reactions. Additionally, synthetic ribosome binding sites (RBS) were included in the primer designs to test heterologous protein expression of the cyan fluorescent reporter with different RBS strengths. These RBS sequences were designed with an online tool, the RBS Calculator.

A chimeric primer design procedure for λ-PCR was developed and shown to effectively create primers used for accurate cloning with λ-PCR; this method was used to design primers for CFP cloning in addition to two enzymes cloned in the Senger lab. A total of five strains of BL21(DE3) with pET28a + CFP were constructed, each with the same cyan fluorescent protein (CFP) reporter but different RBS sequences located directly upstream of the start codon of the CFP gene. Expression of the protein was measured using both whole-cell and cell-free systems to determine which system yields higher protein concentrations. A number of other factors were tested to optimize conditions for high protein expression, including: induction time, IPTG concentration, temperature, and media (for the cell-free experiments only). Additionally, expression for each synthetic RBS sequence was investigated to determine an accurate method for predicting protein translation. NUPACK and the Salis Lab RBS Calculator were both used to evaluate the effects of these different synthetic RBS sequences. The results of the plate reader experiments with the 5 CFP strains revealed a number of factors to be statistically significant when predicting protein expression, including: IPTG concentration, induction time, and in the cell-free experiments, type of media. The whole-cell system consistently produced higher amounts of protein than the cell-free system. Lastly, contrasts between the CFP strains showed each strain's performance did not match the predictions from the RBS Calculator. Consequently, a new method for improving protein expression with synthetic RBS sequences was developed using relationships between Gibbs free energy of the RBS-rRNA complex and expression levels obtained through experimentation. Additionally, secondary structure present at the RBS in the mRNA transcript was modeled with strain expression since these structures cause deviations in the relationship between Gibbs free energy of the mRNA-rRNA complex and CFP expression.

λ-PCR, primer design, synthetic ribosome binding site (RBS), translation initiation rate (TIR), Gibbs free energy, relative fluorescence, cyan fluorescent protein (CFP)