Genome-wide analysis of E. coli cell-gene interactions

S. Cardinale*, G. Cambray

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background: The pursuit of standardization and reliability in synthetic biology has achieved, in recent years, a number of advances in the design of more predictable genetic parts for biological circuits. However, even with the development of high-throughput screening methods and whole-cell models, it is still not possible to predict reliably how a synthetic genetic construct interacts with all cellular endogenous systems. This study presents a genome-wide analysis of how the expression of synthetic genes is affected by systematic perturbations of cellular functions. We found that most perturbations modulate expression indirectly through an effect on cell size, putting forward the existence of a generic Size-Expression interaction in the model prokaryote Escherichia coli. Results: The Size-Expression interaction was quantified by inserting a dual fluorescent reporter gene construct into each of the 3822 single-gene deletion strains comprised in the KEIO collection. Cellular size was measured for single cells via flow cytometry. Regression analyses were used to discriminate between expression-specific and gene-specific effects. Functions of the deleted genes broadly mapped onto three systems with distinct primary influence on the Size-Expression map. Perturbations in the Division and Biosynthesis (DB) system led to a large-cell and high-expression phenotype. In contrast, disruptions of the Membrane and Motility (MM) system caused small-cell and low-expression phenotypes. The Energy, Protein synthesis and Ribosome (EPR) system was predominantly associated with smaller cells and positive feedback on ribosome function. Conclusions: Feedback between cell growth and gene expression is widespread across cell systems. Even though most gene disruptions proximally affect one component of the Size-Expression interaction, the effect therefore ultimately propagates to both. More specifically, we describe the dual impact of growth on cell size and gene expression through cell division and ribosomal content. Finally, we elucidate aspects of the tight control between swarming, gene expression and cell growth. This work provides foundations for a systematic understanding of feedbacks between genetic and physiological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112
JournalBMC Systems Biology
Issue number1
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2017


  • Cell growth
  • Cellular systems
  • KEIO gene knockouts
  • Positive feedback
  • Synthetic gene expression


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