Overcoming the Hurdle in Bottom-Up Synthetic Cell Biology (BEP)

What and Why

Understanding cellular life is one of the key scientific challenges in the 21st century. While biology used to be a descriptive discipline, one that looks at cells at tries to understand their functioning, this century brings about a new approach: bottom-up synthetic biology. Instead of considering a cell in its full complexity, one rather considers a cellular component of interest and studies this particular component. The major advantage of this novel approach is that the component can be studied completely isolated from all other cellular parts and processes, enabling the researcher to gain a proper, clear understanding of the isolated molecule, protein or membrane. The reductionist physicist approach, rather than the descriptive biologist approach.

Viewing the simplified nature of the approach taken in bottom-up synthetic biology, one might expect that the research itself can be simply conducted. However, reconstitution of biological systems actually turns out to be rather challenging. One major challenge in the field is to recreate cell-like compartments, which we call vesicles, that encapsulate components of interest, such as proteins.

The Project

In our lab, we aim to reconstitute cytoskeletal protein networks in vesicles. Although formation of empty vesicles is not a problem, encapsulation of these cytoskeletal proteins seems to interfere with the vesicle conception itself. In this project, you will use a technique called pendant drop to study how proteins interact in the vesicle formation process. Since the vesicle formation processes typically happen at water-oil interfaces, you will investigate how proteins and lipids competitively adsorb onto these interfaces. Ultimately, you will explore methods to boost vesicle formation processes in the presence of cytoskeletal proteins, such that we can take bottom-up synthetic biology one step further.


Lennard van Buren (l.vanburen@tudelft.nl) & Gijsje Koenderink (g.h.koenderink@tudelft.nl)