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Biochemical and Biodiversity Insights into Heavy Metal Ion-Responsive Transcription Regulators for Synthetic Biological Heavy Metal Sensors

Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 2019년 29권 10호 p.1522 ~ 1542
 ( Jung Jae-Joon ) - National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea Department of Applied Research

 ( Lee Sang-Jun ) - Chung-Ang University Department of Systems Biotechnology


To adapt to environmental changes and to maintain cellular homeostasis, microorganisms adjust the intracellular concentrations of biochemical compounds, including metal ions; these are essential for the catalytic function of many enzymes in cells, but excessive amounts of essential metals and heavy metals cause cellular damage. Metal-responsive transcriptional regulators play pivotal roles in metal uptake, pumping out, sequestration, and oxidation or reduction to a less toxic status via regulating the expression of the detoxification-related genes. The sensory and regulatory functions of the metalloregulators have made them as attractive biological parts for synthetic biology, and the exceptional sensitivity and selectivity of metalloregulators toward metal ions have been used in heavy metal biosensors to cope with prevalent heavy metal contamination. Due to their importance, substantial efforts have been made to characterize heavy metal-responsive transcriptional regulators and to develop heavy metal-sensing biosensors. In this review, we summarize the biochemical data for the two major metalloregulator families, SmtB/ArsR and MerR, to describe their metal-binding sites, specific chelating chemistry, and conformational changes. Based on our understanding of the regulatory mechanisms, previously developed metal biosensors are examined to point out their limitations, such as high background noise and a lack of well-characterized biological parts. We discuss several strategies to improve the functionality of the metal biosensors, such as reducing the background noise and amplifying the output signal. From the perspective of making heavy metal biosensors, we suggest that the characterization of novel metalloregulators and the fabrication of exquisitely designed genetic circuits will be required.


Heavy metal; transcriptional regulator; biosensor; synthetic biology; genetic circuit
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