Genetic data storage, scaleable cell-cell communication, and still-better gene expression, all thanks to phage!
Phage-encoded serine integrases are large serine recombinases that mediate integrative and excisive site-specific recombination of temperate phage genomes. They are well suited for use in heterologous systems and for synthetic genetic circuits as the attP and attB attachment sites are small (< 50 bp), there are no host factor or DNA supercoiling requirements, and they are strongly directional, doing only excisive recombination in the presence of a recombination directionality factor. Combining different recombinases that function independently and without cross-talk to construct complex synthetic circuits is desirable, and several different serine integrases are available. However, we show here that these functions are not reliably predictable, and we describe a pair of serine integrases encoded by mycobacteriophages Bxz2 and Peaches with unusual and unpredictable specificities. The integrases share only 59% amino acid sequence identity and the attP sites have fewer than 50% shared bases, but they use the same attB site and there is non-reciprocal cross-talk between the two systems. The DNA binding specificities do not result from differences in specific DNA contacts but from the constraints imposed by the configuration of the component half-sites within each of the attachment site DNAs.
Within the last 25 years, bacteriophage integrases have rapidly risen to prominence as genetic tools for a wide range of applications from basic cloning to genome engineering. Serine integrases such as that from ϕC31 and its relatives have found an especially wide range of applications within diverse micro-organisms right through to multi-cellular eukaryotes. Here, we review the mechanisms of the two major families of integrases, the tyrosine and serine integrases, and the advantages and disadvantages of each type as they are applied in genome engineering and synthetic biology. In particular, we focus on the new areas of metabolic pathway construction and optimization, biocomputing, heterologous expression and multiplexed assembly techniques. Integrases are versatile and efficient tools that can be used in conjunction with the various extant molecular biology tools to streamline the synthetic biology production line.