Synthetic Biology Flashlight Funding
Academic lead: Dr Wei Huang
Synthetic biology is to introduce new biological entities (e.g. DNA/RNA, nanoparticles, and molecules) into cells and reprogram pathways and regulatory networks to achieve novel cellular functions. In simple words Synthetic biology is to engineer cells to carry out novel tasks by changing the software (information code such as DNA/RNA, or the whole genome) and hardware (cellular machine, e.g. DNA/RNA polymerase, ribosome, nano-biomolecules) of life.
Our goal is to create integrated systems with high-level functionality by designing, constructing and testing a semi-biotic immune system, capable of monitoring, detecting and responding to multiple possible disease state signals. This research will ultimately be used to design a semi-biotic immune device, which will detect and react to the onset of disease in its host subject. Our team includes six investigators from Exeter, Manchester, Glasgow, Southampton, Sheffield University and Imperial College London.
At its core, the device will employ a consortium of engineered bacteria, composed of a group of bacterial biosensors that monitor the host for signals of disease onset (such as viral envelope proteins, tumour markers, etc) and bio-synthesisers, that await signals from the detecting bacteria, before initiating the production and release of the relevant small molecule treatment. The engineered bacterial consortium will be interfaced with traditional electronic components that monitor, record and transmit the status of the unit. We envisage that this device will enable individual-specific, rapid and autonomic therapeutic intervention at the early stages of disease, and the platform once developed, will provide a generic roadmap for design and engineering biological systems for other applications, including the use of synthetic biology for bio-energy and environmental bioremediation.