A synthetic cell-cell signaling circuit should ideally be (1) metabolically lightweight, (2) insulated from endogenous gene networks, and (3) excitable rather than oscillatory or bistable. To accomplish these three features, we propose a synchronized pulse-generating circuit based on the design of published synchronized oscillators. This communication module employs a pulse generator built using Lux-type quorum sensing components and an IFFL transcriptional circuit. Both the input and output of this module are AHLs, the quorum sensing signaling molecule. Cells bearing this module therefore act as an excitable medium, producing a pulse of AHL when stimulated by exogenous AHL. Using simulation and microscopy, we demonstrate how this circuit enables traveling pulses of AHL production through microcolonies growing in two dimensions. Traveling pulses achieve cell-cell communication at longer distances than can be achieved by diffusion of signal from sender to receiver cells and may permit more sophisticated coordination in synthetic consortia.
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