Research > Faculty Projects

An Auxin Toobox for Synthetic Multicellular Systems

Principal Investigator
Eric Klavins

Nemhauser, Jennifer

National Science Foundation

Award Period
08/01/2014 - 07/31/2017

Plants are particularly parsimonious in their use of auxin, which is involved in a dizzying array of behaviors from phototropism to morphogenesis. Auxin is literally coursing through the plant, and yet each cell seems to respond to auxin signals differently depending on cell type, location, and history. Our hypothesis is that information is encoded in how the concentration of auxin changes over time. If we could mimic this capability, we may not require additional chemical signals to implement new functions. To begin to create an auxin toolbox, we have ported key genes from the auxin sensing pathway from the plant {\em Arabidopsis thaliana} into the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Lab yeast is ideal for the characterization of the pathway because it is easy to manipulate and has all the prerequisites needed to process auxin, but is otherwise essentially unaware of it. Here, we propose to build a framework for cell-cell communication and multicellular behavior in yeast based on the auxin pathway. We will combine rigorous quantitative characterization of the synthetic auxin signaling circuits we construct with mathematical modeling and engineering design tools to build our understanding of the programability of the pathway. Specifically, we aim to (a) engineer auxin signal-processing circuits such as filters, repeaters, buffers, and pulse generators in yeast; (b) build an auxin biosynthesis pathway in yeast so that cells can send signals to neighboring cells; and (c) design, model, and implement simple multicellular behaviors using these capabilities. The results will provide new tools for engineering multicellular systems in yeast and could serve as a starting point for engineering multicellular behaviors in other eukaryotes.

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