Validation of an entirely in vitro approach for rapid prototyping of DNA regulatory elements for synthetic biology
A bottleneck in our capacity to rationally and predictably engineer biological systems is the limited number of well-characterized genetic elements from which to build. Current characterization methods are tied to measurements in living systems, the transformation and culturing of which are inherently time-consuming. To address this, we have validated a completely in vitro approach for the characterization of DNA regulatory elements using Escherichia coli extract cell-free systems. Importantly, we demonstrate that characterization in cell-free systems correlates and is reflective of performance in vivo for the most frequently used DNA regulatory elements. Moreover, we devise a rapid and completely in vitro method to generate DNA templates for cell-free systems, bypassing the need for DNA template generation and amplification from living cells. This in vitro approach is significantly quicker than current characterization methods and is amenable to high-throughput techniques, providing a valuable tool for rapidly prototyping libraries of DNA regulatory elements for synthetic biology.