Antisense RNA transcription attenuators are a key component of the synthetic biology toolbox, with their ability to serve as building blocks for both signal integration logic circuits and transcriptional cascades. However, a central challenge to building more sophisticated RNA genetic circuitry is creating larger families of orthogonal attenuators that function independently of each other. Here, we overcome this challenge by developing a modular strategy to create chimeric fusions between the engineered transcriptional attenuator from plasmid pT181 and natural antisense RNA translational regulators. Using in vivo gene expression assays in Escherichia coli, we demonstrate our ability to create chimeric attenuators by fusing sequences from five different translational regulators. Mutagenesis of these functional attenuators allowed us to create a total of 11 new chimeric attenutaors. A comprehensive orthogonality test of these culminated in a 7 × 7 matrix of mutually orthogonal regulators. A comparison between all chimeras tested led to design principles that will facilitate further engineering of orthogonal RNA transcription regulators, and may help elucidate general principles of non-coding RNA regulation. We anticipate that our strategy will accelerate the development of even larger families of orthogonal RNA transcription regulators, and thus create breakthroughs in our ability to construct increasingly sophisticated RNA genetic circuitry.
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