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Goetz, Alexandra; Mader, Andreas; Bronk, Benedikt von; Weiss, Anna S. and Opitz, Madeleine (2020): Gene expression noise in a complex artificial toxin expression system.
In: PLOS One 15(1), e0227249 [PDF, 1MB]


Gene expression is an intrinsically stochastic process. Fluctuations in transcription and translation lead to cell-to-cell variations in mRNA and protein levels affecting cellular function and cell fate. Here, using fluorescence time-lapse microscopy, we quantify noise dynamics in an artificial operon in Escherichia coli, which is based on the native operon of ColicinE2, a toxin. In the natural system, toxin expression is controlled by a complex regulatory network;upon induction of the bacterial SOS response, ColicinE2 is produced (cea gene) and released (cel gene) by cell lysis. Using this ColicinE2-based operon, we demonstrate that upon induction of the SOS response noise of cells expressing the operon is significantly lower for the (mainly) transcriptionally regulated gene cea compared to the additionally post-transcriptionally regulated gene cel. Likewise, we find that mutations affecting the transcriptional regulation by the repressor LexA do not significantly alter the population noise, whereas specific mutations to post-transcriptionally regulating units, strongly influence noise levels of both genes. Furthermore, our data indicate that global factors, such as the plasmid copy number of the operon encoding plasmid, affect gene expression noise of the entire operon. Taken together, our results provide insights on how noise in a native toxin-producing operon is controlled and underline the importance of post-transcriptional regulation for noise control in this system.

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