Programmable Cell-like Compartments
The convergence environment will develop cell-like compartments which can in the future be assembled and programmed to track and deactivate hazards such as pathogenic microorganisms, migrating cancerous cells, plastics micro-particles, or heavy metal sediments.
Either inside organisms for therapeutic applications, or eventually on an industrial scale to remove environmental hazards, a programmable “smart” technology for targeting unwanted contaminants in aqueous microenvironments would be nearly universally valuable.
To achieve a proof of concept and show that target materials in a given microscopic aqueous environment can be identified, encapsulated in a self-assembled membrane, and subsequently immobilized-deactivated by solidifying the initially flexible capsule. Key concepts are self-migration, encapsulation, and solidification of surfactant membrane microcontainers.
To create bio-inspired programmable soft material devices which can later address fundamental and applied science problems related to health, environmental pollution or contamination with unwanted microparticulate matter.
Two of today’s grand societal challenges are incurable diseases and environment pollution. In some instances, smart scientific and technology solutions have the potential to address both problems simultaneously. Through evolution, biological cells have adapted unique modalities to probe, surround and deactivate non-native objects.
In this project we aim to develop cell-like compartments (CLCs), which can in the future be assembled and programmed to track and deactivate hazards such as pathogenic microorganisms, migrating cancerous cells, plastics micro-particles, or heavy metal sediments. A scientific consortium combining material science, mathematical modeling and molecular cell biology, embedded in a framework of responsible research and innovation (RRI); has been formed to achieve the objectives, since it is inconceivable to design, build and integrate such structures from a single disciplinary perspective alone.
The highly accurate design and the synthesis of machines at the molecular size scale led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016. Some of these machines are created by self-assembly, a process that spontaneously organizes molecules to form ordered, functional structures. It is an old, so far unfulfilled mission that molecular machines can solve difficult chemical and biological problems. Incurable diseases and environmental pollution by hazardous contaminants are examples of such problems. The most perfect tiny machines, that can already today fight diseases and decontaminate their environment, are the biological cells.
Our goal is to build the first generation of very simple molecular machines inspired by cells, which can identify and follow pre-determined molecules in the environment, encapsulate the molecules in the surrounding liquid and later transform into a stable solid polymer shell, preferably upon exposure to light. We envision our joint effort to result in the first constructs of artificial machines, which can later be transformed into a technology that can address some of today’s challenging societal problems; among them, deactivation of hazards such as pathogenic microorganisms or cancerous cells in blood; plastic micro-particles or heavy metal sediments in drinking water. The project aims at developing strategies for migration, targeting and detection, and intends to deliver a proof of concept for the key functionalities of CLCs.
Other important collaborators
- Prof. Anne Simonsen (Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo)
- Prof. Adreas Brech (Institute for Cancer Research)
- Prof. L. Mahadevan (Harvard University, USA)
- Prof. Vinothan N. Manoharan (Harvard University, USA)
- Prof. Jeff Jones (University of the West of England)
- Prof. Roger Williams (University of Cambridge, UK)