The interrelationship between promoter strength, gene expression, and growth rate

Matthew S. Bienick, Katherine W. Young, Justin R. Klesmith, Emily E. Detwiler, Kyle J. Tomek, Timothy A. Whitehead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


In exponentially growing bacteria, expression of heterologous protein impedes cellular growth rates. Quantitative understanding of the relationship between expression and growth rate will advance our ability to forward engineer bacteria, important for metabolic engineering and synthetic biology applications. Recently, a work described a scaling model based on optimal allocation of ribosomes for protein translation. This model quantitatively predicts a linear relationship between microbial growth rate and heterologous protein expression with no free parameters. With the aim of validating this model, we have rigorously quantified the fitness cost of gene expression by using a library of synthetic constitutive promoters to drive expression of two separate proteins (eGFP and amiE) in E. coli in different strains and growth media. In all cases, we demonstrate that the fitness cost is consistent with the previous findings. We expand upon the previous theory by introducing a simple promoter activity model to quantitatively predict how basal promoter strength relates to growth rate and protein expression. We then estimate the amount of protein expression needed to support high flux through a heterologous metabolic pathway and predict the sizable fitness cost associated with enzyme production. This work has broad implications across applied biological sciences because it allows for prediction of the interplay between promoter strength, protein expression, and the resulting cost to microbial growth rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere109105
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 6 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Bienick et al.


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