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Sensing and responding to signals is a fundamental ability of living systems, but despite remarkable progress in computational design of new protein structures, there is no general approach for engineering arbitrary new protein sensors. Here we describe a generalizable computational strategy for designing sensor/actuator proteins by building binding sites de novo into heterodimeric protein-protein interfaces and coupling ligand sensing to modular actuation via split reporters. Using this approach, we designed protein sensors that respond to farnesyl pyrophosphate, a metabolic intermediate in the production of valuable compounds. The sensors are functional in vitro and in cells, and the crystal structure of the engineered binding site matches the design model with atomic accuracy. Our computational design strategy opens broad avenues to link biological outputs to new signals.

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