Background:Transcription factor-based biosensors are useful tools for the detection of metabolites and industrially valuable molecules, and present many potential applications in biotechnology and biomedicine. However, the most common approach to develop biosensors relies on employing a limited set of naturally occurring allosteric transcript factors (aTFs). Therefore, altering the ligand specificity of aTFs towards the detection of new effectors is an important goal.
Results: Here, the PcaV repressor, a member of the MarR aTF family, was used to develop a biosensor for the detection of hydroxyl-substituted benzoic acids, including protocatechuic acid (PCA). The PCA biosensor was further subjected to directed evolution to alter its ligand specificity towards vanillin and other closely related aromatic aldehydes, to generate the Van2 biosensor. Ligand recognition of Van2 was explored in vitro using a range of biochemical and biophysical analyses, and extensive in vivo genetic-phenotypic analysis was performed to determine the role of each amino acid change upon biosensor performance.
Conclusions: This is the first study to report directed evolution of a member of the MarR aTF family, and demonstrates the plasticity of the PCA biosensor by altering its ligand specificity to generate a biosensor for aromatic aldehydes.