Bacteria are one of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, organized in interconnected communities both in natural and synthetic environments, called microbiomes. They naturally transfer genetic material between themselves in a process called “lateral gene transfer”, essentially trading and sharing information with one another. Genetically modifying microbiomes requires modifying specific species of the community while leaving others untouched.
Therefore, trying to selectively engineer species within a microbiome proves difficult, and furthermore poses a biosafety issue which can have unintended consequences and large ecological impacts, by spreading genes within a community.
No current generic technology is able to provide selectivity while engineering microbial communities, which limits any attempt to expand GMO beyond the borders of the supervised lab, such as in human microbiome therapy, AgroTech soil/root microbiota, food-tech products, and oil degradation/bioremediation.
The Solution - Communique
Our project, Communique, is a technology which will allow us to take the genetic information passed on to bacterial communities and translate it to a language understood only by handpicked members of the community. This will selectively target specific species to express the gene of interest, while avoiding transfer of the genes to unwanted species within the community. By using this approach, we can ensure increased productivity in utilizing bacterial communities for various applications, while providing higher biosafety standards and new possibilities for engineering microbiomes.
We’re currently generating a pipeline that will automatically design a plasmid for environment- and species-specific expression. Our software will integrate a species preferences for different aspects of gene expression (transcription, translation, ORI, restriction enzymes, etc.) and use our algorithms to fine-tune any gene of interest to be expressed optimally for that same organism, while preventing expression in other species.