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Enhanced Population Control in a Synthetic Bacterial Consortium by Interconnected Carbon Cross-Feeding

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2642-2650
Number of pages9
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2019
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Engineered microbial consortia can provide several advantages over monocultures in terms of utilization of mixed substrates, resistance to perturbations, and division of labor in complex tasks. However, maintaining stability, reproducibility, and control over population levels in variable conditions can be challenging in multispecies cultures. In our study, we modeled and constructed a synthetic symbiotic consortium with a genetically encoded carbon cross-feeding system. The system is based on strains of Escherichia coli and Acinetobacter baylyi ADP1, both engineered to be incapable of growing on glucose on their own. In a culture supplemented with glucose as the sole carbon source, growth of the two strains is afforded by the exchange of gluconate and acetate, resulting in inherent control over carbon availability and population balance. We investigated the system robustness in terms of stability and population control under different inoculation ratios, substrate concentrations, and cultivation scales, both experimentally and by modeling. To illustrate how the system might facilitate division of genetic circuits among synthetic microbial consortia, a green fluorescent protein sensitive to pH and a slowly maturing red fluorescent protein were expressed in the consortium as measures of a circuit's susceptibility to external and internal variability, respectively. The symbiotic consortium maintained stable and linear growth and circuit performance regardless of the initial substrate concentration or inoculation ratio. The developed cross-feeding system provides simple and reliable means for population control without expression of non-native elements or external inducer addition, being potentially exploitable in consortia applications involving precisely defined cell tasks or division of labor.


  • consortium modeling, cross-feeding, population control, synthetic consortium

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland