RNA transcriptional regulators are emerging as versatile components for genetic network construction. However, these regulators suffer from incomplete repression in their OFF state, making their dynamic range less than that of their protein counterparts. This incomplete repression causes expression leak, which impedes the construction of larger synthetic regulatory networks as leak propagation can interfere with desired network function. To address this,we demonstrate hownaturally derived antisense RNA-mediated transcriptional regulators can be configured to regulate both transcription and translation in a single compact RNA mechanism that functions in Escherichia coli. Usingin vivo gene expression assays, we show that a combination of transcriptional termination and ribosome binding site sequestration increases repression from 85% to 98%, or activation from 10-fold to over 900-fold, in response to cognate antisense RNAs. We also show that orthogonal repressive versions of this mechanism can be created through engineering minimal antisense RNAs. Finally, to demonstrate the utility of this mechanism, we use it to reduce network leak in an RNA-only cascade. We anticipate these regulators will find broad use as synthetic biology moves beyond parts engineering to the design and construction of more sophisticated regulatory networks.
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