Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

BMC Biology


Thayer School of Engineering

Additional Department

Department of Physics and Astronomy


Background: Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main energy carrier in living organisms, critical for metabolism and essential physiological processes. In humans, abnormal regulation of energy levels (ATP concentration) and power consumption (ATP consumption flux) in cells is associated with numerous diseases from cancer, to viral infection and immune dysfunction, while in microbes it influences their responses to drugs and other stresses. The measurement and modeling of ATP dynamics in cells is therefore a critical component in understanding fundamental physiology and its role in pathology. Despite the importance of ATP, our current understanding of energy dynamics and homeostasis in living cells has been limited by the lack of easy-to-use ATP sensors and the lack of models that enable accurate estimates of energy and power consumption related to these ATP dynamics. Here we describe a dynamic model and an ATP reporter that tracks ATP in E. coli over different growth phases. Results: The reporter is made by fusing an ATP-sensing rrnB P1 promoter with a fast-folding and fast-degrading GFP. Good correlations between reporter GFP and cellular ATP were obtained in E. coli growing in both minimal and rich media and in various strains. The ATP reporter can reliably monitor bacterial ATP dynamics in response to nutrient availability. Fitting the dynamics of experimental data corresponding to cell growth, glucose, acetate, dissolved oxygen, and ATP yielded a mathematical and circuit model. This model can accurately predict cellular energy and power consumption under various conditions. We found that cellular power consumption varies significantly from approximately 0.8 and 0.2 million ATP/s for a tested strain during lag and stationary phases to 6.4 million ATP/s during exponential phase, indicating ~ 8–30-fold changes of metabolic rates among different growth phases. Bacteria turn over their cellular ATP pool a few times per second during the exponential phase and slow this rate by ~ 2–5-fold in lag and stationary phases. Conclusion: Our rrnB P1-GFP reporter and kinetic circuit model provide a fast and simple way to monitor and predict energy and power consumption dynamics in bacterial cells, which can impact fundamental scientific studies and applied medical treatments in the future.



Original Citation

Deng, Y., Beahm, D.R., Ionov, S. et al. Measuring and modeling energy and power consumption in living microbial cells with a synthetic ATP reporter. BMC Biol 19, 101 (2021).