Coupling cell communication and optogenetics: Implementation of a light-inducible intercellular system in yeast

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Cell communication is a widespread mechanism in biology, allowing the transmission of information about environmental conditions. In order to understand how cell communication modulates relevant biological processes such as survival, division, differentiation or apoptosis, different synthetic systems based on chemical induction have been successfully developed. In this work, we coupled cell communication and optogenetics in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae . Our approach is based on two strains connected by the light-dependent production of α-factor pheromone in one cell type, which induces gene expression in the other type. After the individual characterization of the different variants of both strains, the optogenetic intercellular system was evaluated by combining the cells under contrasting illumination conditions. Using luciferase as a reporter gene, specific co-cultures at 1:1 ratio displayed activation of the response upon constant blue-light, which was not observed for the same cell mixtures grown in darkness. Then, the system was assessed at several dark/blue-light transitions, where the response level varies depending on the moment in which illumination was delivered. Furthermore, we observed that the amplitude of response can be tuned by modifying the initial ratio between both strains. Finally, the two-population system showed higher fold-inductions in comparison with autonomous strains. Altogether, these results demonstrated that external light information is propagated through a diffusible signaling molecule to modulate gene expression in a synthetic system, which will pave the road for studies allowing optogenetic control of population-level dynamics.

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