Synthetic Biology

Polymers as containers and receivers for cell signals – a new route into synthetic biology?

Cameron Alexander

University of Nottingham, UK


Research interests

Research interests focus on the synthesis of polymers for biomedical applications, especially drug and gene delivery. Current projects are investigating controlled release of therapeutics from synthetic-biopolymer complexes and conjugates, targeted degradable polymers for gene therapy, and smart materials for protein and cell recognition in solution and at surfaces. Collaborative projects span disciplines including synthetic chemistry, molecular medicine, cell biology, molecular imprinting and polymer physics.

Website: University of Nottingham


Speaker abstract

The emerging field of synthetic biology offers much promise for biomedical applications. In particular, the idea of an ‘intelligent’ therapeutic, activated to release a drug on recognition of an early disease signal is very appealing from a clinical perspective. However, in order to develop such a specifically bio-activated device, a number of technologies need to be coupled together, many of which are in their infancy
In Nottingham, we have been working, as part of the EPSRC-funded ‘Chell’ consortium, on synthetic container components which might act as primitive mimics of an intelligent synthetic biology. Our goal is to generate complexity in function from abiotic parts, each of which has a specific function that can be related to a real biological cell. We aim to couple chemical information, a simple metabolism model, and a container to gate information flow, into a ‘Turing test’ experiment1,2 such that we evaluate our chemical cell (‘Chell’) against information flow and signaling with real bacterial cells.
The talk will accordingly focus on our latest results in which we have been developing polymers and containers that interfere with bacterial Quorum Sensing (QS) systems.3 We will show that polymers can feedback into bacterial QS networks, enabling a potential new strategy against bacterial infections.

1. Cronin L, Krasnogor N, Davis BG, Alexander C, Robertson N, Steinke JHG, Schroeder SLM, Khlobystov AN, Cooper G, Gardner PM, Siepmann P, Whitaker BJ, Marsh D. 2006. The imitation game - a computational chemical approach to recognizing life. Nature Biotechnology 24: 1203-1206.
2. Pasparakis G, Krasnogor N, Cronin L, Davis BG, Alexander C. 2010. Controlled polymer synthesis-from biomimicry towards synthetic biology. Chemical Society Reviews 39: 286-300.
3. Xue X, Pasparakis G, Halliday N, Winzer K, Howdle SM, Cramphorn CJ, Cameron NR, Gardner PM, Davis BG, Fernandez-Trillo F, Alexander C. 2011. Synthetic Polymers for Simultaneous Bacterial Sequestration and Quorum Sense Interference. Angewandte Chemie-International Edition 50: 9852-9856.

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