Genomic Science Program
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Biological and Environmental Research Program

The Plant Synthetic Biology Shared Research Objective: Building a Cross-BRC Repository of Regulatory Elements and Testing Technologies


Angel McKay Whiteman3,4* (, Patrick Shih1,2, Jenny Mortimer1,5, C. J. Tsai6,7, Xiaohan Yang6, Wayne Parrott6,7, Amy Marshall-Colon8, Kankshita Swaminathan3, Steve Moose8, Federica Brandizzi3,4, Björn Hamberger3,4, Shawn Mansfield4,9, John Mullet4,10, Timothy J. Donohue10


1University of California–Berkely; 2DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute; 3Michigan State University–East Lansing; 4DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison; 5University of Adelaide–Australia; 6University of Georgia–Athens; 7Center for Bioenergy Innovation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; 8Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–Urbana; 9University of British Columbia–Canada; 10Texas AandM University–College Station; 10Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin–Madison


Plants represent ideal chassis for metabolic engineering and light-driven synthetic biology. Their specific tissues and dedicated organelles give access to unique metabolite pools and allow insulation of newly installed traits. To fully harness the untapped potential and enable expression of complex traits, it is critical to develop a portfolio of tools to control gene expression and efficient testing and implementation technologies. The ultimate goal of this shared research objective is a shared standardized repository of validated biobricks, plant synthetic biology parts, and technologies for the improvement of bioenergy feed stocks. Researchers have initiated the cross-BRC repository and are populating it with regulatory elements, promoters that are tunable, organ, tissue, cell-type specific, and treatment responsive from sorghum and poplar. In this project, researchers showcase identification of genes specifically expressed in cell types of the sorghum stem, epidermis and root hairs, as well as a highly xylem specific gene in poplar. Expression analysis revealed complex coexpression networks, including so far uncharacterized genes.

Cloning, validation, and functional characterization of the respective regulatory elements enabled assembly into logic gates and genomic circuits. Tools for functional testing of promoters, delivery of multigene constructs and rapid transient expression technology are in development. Application of these tools can enable scalable biosustainable production of natural products and tuning of the plant’s capacity for adaptation to and interaction with their biotic and abiotic environment.

Funding Information

This material is based upon work supported in part by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, DOE, Office of Science, BER program under award no. DE-SC0018409.