Transcriptional reprogramming in yeast using dCas9 and combinatorial gRNA strategies

Emil Damgaard Jensen, Raphael Ferreira, Tadas Jakociunas, Dushica Arsovska, Jie Zhang, Ling Ding, Justin D Smith, Florian David, Jens Nielsen, Michael Krogh Jensen, Jay D Keasling

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Transcriptional reprogramming is a fundamental process of living cells in order to adapt to environmental and endogenous cues. In order to allow flexible and timely control over gene expression without the interference of native gene expression machinery, a large number of studies have focused on developing synthetic biology tools for orthogonal control of transcription. Most recently, the nuclease-deficient Cas9 (dCas9) has emerged as a flexible tool for controlling activation and repression of target genes, by the simple RNA-guided positioning of dCas9 in the vicinity of the target gene transcription start site. In this study we compared two different systems of dCas9-mediated transcriptional reprogramming, and applied them to genes controlling two biosynthetic pathways for biobased production of isoprenoids and triacylglycerols (TAGs) in baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. By testing 101 guide-RNA (gRNA) structures on a total of 14 different yeast promoters, we identified the best-performing combinations based on reporter assays. Though a larger number of gRNA-promoter combinations do not perturb gene expression, some gRNAs support expression perturbations up to ~threefold. The best-performing gRNAs were used for single and multiplex reprogramming strategies for redirecting flux related to isoprenoid production and optimization of TAG profiles. From these studies, we identified both constitutive and inducible multiplex reprogramming strategies enabling significant changes in isoprenoid production and increases in TAG. Taken together, we show similar performance for a constitutive and an inducible dCas9 approach, and identify multiplex gRNA designs that can significantly perturb isoprenoid production and TAG profiles in yeast without editing the genomic context of the target genes. We also identify a large number of gRNA positions in 14 native yeast target pomoters that do not affect expression, suggesting the need for further optimization of gRNA design tools and dCas9 engineering.
Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalMicrobial Cell Factories
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Open Access
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated


  • Isoprenoids
  • Mxi1
  • Transcriptional regulation
  • Triacylglycerols
  • VPR
  • Yeast
  • dCas9
  • gRNA
  • scRNA


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