A host of observations demonstrating the relationship between nuclear architecture and processes such as gene expression have led to a number of new technologies for interrogating chromosome positioning. Whereas some of these technologies reconstruct intermolecular interactions, others have enhanced our ability to visualize chromosomes in situ. Here, we describe an oligonucleotide- and PCR-based strategy for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and a bioinformatic platform that enables this technology to be extended to any organism whose genome has been sequenced. The oligonucleotide probes are renewable, highly efficient, and able to robustly label chromosomes in cell culture, fixed tissues, and metaphase spreads. Our method gives researchers precise control over the sequences they target and allows for single and multicolor imaging of regions ranging from tens of kilobases to megabases with the same basic protocol. We anticipate this technology will lead to an enhanced ability to visualize interphase and metaphase chromosomes.

The synthesis of living entities in the laboratory is a standing challenge that calls for innovative approaches. Using a cell-free transcription-translation system as a molecular programming platform, we show that the bacteriophage T7, encoded by a 40 kbp DNA program composed of about 60 genes, can be entirely synthesized from its genomic DNA in a test tube reaction. More than a billion infectious bacteriophages T7 per milliliter of reaction are produced after a few hours of incubation. The replication of the genomic DNA occurs concurrently with phage gene expression, protein synthesis, and viral assembly. The demonstration that genome-sized viral DNA can be expressed in a test tube, recapitulating the entire chain of information processing including the replication of the DNA instructions, opens new possibilities to program and to study complex biochemical systems in vitro.

Cell-free protein synthesis is becoming a powerful technique to construct and to study complex informational processes in vitro. Engineering synthetic gene circuits in a test tube, however, is seriously limited by the transcription repertoire of modern cell-free systems, composed of only a few bacteriophage regulatory elements. Here, we report the construction and the phenomenological characterization of synthetic gene circuits engineered with a cell-free expression toolbox that works with the seven E. coli sigma factors. The E. coli endogenous holoenzyme E(70) is used as the primary transcription machinery. Elementary circuit motifs, such as multiple stage cascades, AND gate and negative feedback loops are constructed with the six other sigma factors, two bacteriophage RNA polymerases, and a set of repressors. The circuit dynamics reveal the importance of the global mRNA turnover rate and of passive competition-induced transcriptional regulation. Cell-free reactions can be carried out over long periods of time with a small-scale dialysis reactor or in phospholipid vesicles, an artificial cell system. This toolbox is a unique platform to study complex transcription/translation-based biochemical systems in vitro.

The physical interaction between the cytoskeleton and the cell membrane is essential in defining the morphology of living organisms. In this study, we use a synthetic approach to polymerize bacterial MreB filaments inside phospholipid vesicles. When the proteins MreB and MreC are expressed inside the liposomes, the MreB cytoskeleton structure develops at the inner membrane. Furthermore, when purified MreB is used inside the liposomes, MreB filaments form a 4-10 μm rigid bundle structure and deform the lipid vesicles in physical contact with the vesicle inner membrane. These results indicate that the fibrillation of MreB filaments can take place either in close proximity of deformable lipid membrane or in the presence of associated protein. Our finding might be relevant for the self-assembly of cytoskeleton filaments toward the construction of artificial cell systems.