On-site assembly of the actin cortex in semi-synthetic cells to control cell mechanics and behaviour

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry


Can we engineer semi-synthetic cells that can alter their global mechanical properties on-demand,
in response to external stimuli? Can we link these mechanical properties to downstream
protocellular 'behaviours' that are relevant to therapeutic and biotechnological applications? This
project aims to address these questions using a cellular bionics approach. By intermingling both
biological and synthetic components, an actin cortex will be manufactured within vesicle-based
synthetic cells in response to light in the IR range. The cortex will be disassembled in response to
light in the UV range. This allows the cell to dynamically switch between mechanically distinct states
(i.e. different rigidities and viscosities), with spatiotemporal control. Coupling cell biomechanics to
different behaviours, in this case the cell's ability to squeeze through constrictions under flow, will
be investigated using a microfluidic device. This project will first require an understanding of the
effect of the actin cortex on cell mechanics to be developed using molecular rotors and flickering
analysis. These insights will then allow us to controllably engineer the stimuli-responsive systems.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023518/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2281771 Studentship EP/S023518/1 01/10/2019 31/01/2023 Ioannis Ioannou