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Rationally Designed Synthetic Transcription Factors




A team of Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) researchers led by Jay Keasling and Howard Chou has developed a method for constructing synthetic, highly specialized transcription factors (TFs) from a trio of peptide building blocks.

The first peptide is designed to target a ligand; the second binds to a target sequence of DNA; and the third is a linker that connects the first and second peptide in a compact molecular structure. Depending on the target DNA and the gene of interest, the binding of target DNA by the synthetic TF can either activate or repress transcription of the gene of interest. This system can be designed to regulate specific genes or to modulate the mutation rate in directed evolution strategies to find desired phenotypes. Either approach requires less time and resources than random mutation and screening to develop valuable phenotypes.

Transcription factors (TFs) are crucial regulatory proteins found in a cell that switch gene functions on or off by binding to specific DNA sequences. Naturally occurring TFs are not necessarily suitable for the gene regulation tasks required in organisms modified for biotechnology or medical applications.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE:  Proven principle

STATUS:  Patent pending.  Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Chou, H.H., Keasling, J.D. "Programming adaptive control to evolve increased metabolite production," Nature Communications, 4, Article number 2595, Oct. 17, 2013.


The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI, is a scientific partnership led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and including the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. JBEI’s primary scientific mission is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels.


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