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The University of Southampton

Research project: Attard: RNA and peptide foundries: developing novel integrated semi-biotic devices

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The aim of this research programme is to develop modular engineered systems (lab-on-a-chip type devices), for the cell-free production of RNA and peptides/proteins, that go beyond the capabilities that can be achieved using other synthetic biology approaches.key words: cell-free synthesis, synthetic biology, semi-biotic devices, DNA transcription, mRNA, translation, lab-on-a-chip, engineering design.

The concept underlying this research area is inspired by the design of natural organisms and is an approach to producing and delivering specific biomolecules at the sites where they are required, when they are needed and in the correct amounts. Semi-biotic devices are envisaged as devices that comprise biologically-derived assemblies (these could be protein complexes or organelles) that are immobilised in solid-state devices (e.g. microfluidic devices) which exploit their functionality in a controlled way. Our aim is to develop modular engineered cell-free systems (lab-on-a-chip type devices) that go beyond the capabilities that can be achieved using other synthetic biology approaches. Our work is based on a European collaboration called NEONUCLEI which developed and characterised DNA/lipid mixtures capable of sustaining transcription and that were simple models of cell nuclei. Current work focuses on developing a range of functional ‘cassettes’, each of which is capable of performing a biological process (e.g. transcription, translation, post-translational modification). Thes cassettes comprise hard/wet-ware primary components such as tethered DNA, lipids, tethered ribosomes, reagents etc). The cassettes are designed to perform unit processes/ operations, and are engineered to a ‘plug-and-play’ standard so that they can be configured into integrated biochemical production units capable of producing a range of functional biomolecules. The target is to achieve self-contained devices that are RNA or peptide ‘foundries’ in that a given target protein can be produced on demand by accessing the appropriate set of cassettes. Such devices would be of interest for ‘on site’ production of specialist vaccines, as well as components of closed-loop biomedical systems that are able to monitor a patient’s status and produce therapeutic peptides in response to need (e.g. insulin). This research is being carried out in collaboration with Ali Tavassoli (Chemistry), Hywel Morgan (Electronics & Computer Science), Tommy Nylander (Chemistry, Lund University) and Yuru Deng (Wenzhou Institute of Biomaterials and Engineering).

Related research groups

Chemical Biology, Diagnostics and Therapeutics
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