A Framework for Engineering Stress Resilient Plants using Genetic Feedback Control and Regulatory Network Rewiring

Mathias Foo, Iulia Gherman, Peijun Zhang, Declan G. Bates, Katherine Denby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Crop disease leads to significant waste worldwide, both pre- and postharvest, with subsequent economic and sustainability consequences. Disease outcome is determined both by the plants' response to the pathogen and by the ability of the pathogen to suppress defense responses and manipulate the plant to enhance colonization. The defense response of a plant is characterized by significant transcriptional reprogramming mediated by underlying gene regulatory networks, and components of these networks are often targeted by attacking pathogens. Here, using gene expression data from Botrytis cinerea-infected Arabidopsis plants, we develop a systematic approach for mitigating the effects of pathogen-induced network perturbations, using the tools of synthetic biology. We employ network inference and system identification techniques to build an accurate model of an Arabidopsis defense subnetwork that contains key genes determining susceptibility of the plant to the pathogen attack. Once validated against time-series data, we use this model to design and test perturbation mitigation strategies based on the use of genetic feedback control. We show how a synthetic feedback controller can be designed to attenuate the effect of external perturbations on the transcription factor CHE in our subnetwork. We investigate and compare two approaches for implementing such a controller biologically - direct implementation of the genetic feedback controller, and rewiring the regulatory regions of multiple genes - to achieve the network motif required to implement the controller. Our results highlight the potential of combining feedback control theory with synthetic biology for engineering plants with enhanced resilience to environmental stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1553-1564
Number of pages12
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Issue number6
Early online date10 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2018

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© 2018 American Chemical Society. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • feedback control
  • network rewiring
  • plant defense response
  • plant synthetic biology
  • plant-pathogen interaction
  • synthetic gene circuits

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