Multiplexed gene synthesis in emulsions for exploring protein functional landscapes
Improving our ability to construct and functionally characterize DNA sequences would broadly accelerate progress in biology. Here, we introduce DropSynth, a scalable, low-cost method to build thousands of defined gene-length constructs in a pooled (multiplexed) manner. DropSynth uses a library of barcoded beads that pull down the oligonucleotides necessary for a gene’s assembly, which are then processed and assembled in water-in-oil emulsions. We used DropSynth to successfully build more than 7000 synthetic genes that encode phylogenetically diverse homologs of two essential genes in Escherichia coli. We tested the ability of phosphopantetheine adenylyltransferase homologs to complement a knockout E. coli strain in multiplex, revealing core functional motifs and reasons underlying homolog incompatibility. DropSynth coupled with multiplexed functional assays allows us to rationally explore sequence-function relationships at an unprecedented scale.