Engineering synthetic cell 'translators' to mediate human-cell communication

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


Synthetic biology can be divided into two distinct approaches. The first is the top-down approach, where cells are modified using metabolic and genetic engineering techniques. The second is concerned with the bottom-up construction of membrane-bound microsystems - artificial cells - that resemble biological cells in form and function. The current state-of-the-art involves using lipid vesicles as chassis that are functionalised with biomolecular machinery allowing cellular processes to be mimicked. Until now, these approaches have largely evolved in isolation from one another. The aim of this project is to bridge this divide by chemically networking synthetic cells with engineered biological ones on a population level using through-space communication. In this project we will design a suite of stimuli-responsive synthetic cells that can induce activation of a DNA programme in living E. coli in response to external stimuli. The artificial cells will act as intermediaries between a human user and a living cell, capable of 'translating' a signal (heat, light, magnetic field, acoustic field) into a language that living cells can understand (IPTG) and act upon (synthesizing a protein of interest). This new conceptual framework in biotechnology will allow the creation of responsive systems in a way that is not possible using living systems alone, a strategy that is directly aligned with the remit of the CDT. This approach will effectively lead to expanded sensory range of bacteria, allowing then to respond to cues that are entirely different from the ones they have evolved to respond to.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023518/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2450375 Studentship EP/S023518/1 03/10/2020 30/09/2024 Karen Keyue Zhu