Towards artificial chloroplasts and cells: Compartmentalization and membrane functionalization, integration of networks 

Towards artificial chloroplasts and cells: Compartmentalization and membrane functionalization, integration of networks

Parallel to (and beyond) engineering natural cells, we also work towards realizing new bioinspired systems. To that end, we interface (synthetic) biology, chemistry and material sciences with the ultimate goal to create artificial organelles (Miller et al. Science) and cells for CO2 fixation, which are able to overcome the limitations of natural living systems.

Many biochemical reactions require distinct chemical environments. With cells and organelles, nature found a very efficient way to provide ideal reaction spaces for biological processes. In addition to separating processes, biomembranes actively perform diverse fundamental biological processes, such as energy supply (light harvesting and respiration), selective transport, and communication.

We aim at exploring the potentials of spatial separation and membrane biology to implement these principles in synthetic biology. We create artificial compartments and equip synthetic membranes with functional proteins to give them life-inspired properties. To achieve this goal, we work on:

  • Biosynthesis of functional membrane proteins in synthetic membranes
  • Functionalized nanopores for improved sensing and chemical/informational transport
  • High-throughput production, analysis and selection of synthetic compartments to screen enzyme libraries for new-to-nature pathways
  • Bottom-up energy regeneration modules for complex metabolic circuits

We apply state-of-the art methods, like microfluidics, cell-free protein synthesis, modern fluorescence microscopy methods, rational protein design and electrophysiological analysis of biomembranes.

Beyond our compartmentalization efforts, we also advance the capabilities of metabolic networks. We interface them with natural and synthetic energy modules to power them through light (Miller et al. Science) or even electricity (Luo et al. Joule). We also strive to create more integrated and complex systems, e.g., through the bottom-up assembly of metabolic and genetic linked networks (MGLNs). In such networks, the programming of a genetically-encoded response into a metabolic network allows us to build advanced biomimetic systems with emergent properties such as decision-making, self-regeneration/repair, and evolution in the future (Giaveri et al. BioRxiv). For these efforts, we develop and optimize new in vitro transcription/translation (TXTL) methods.


Learn more about:
Evolution and Biochemistry of natural CO2-fixing enzymes
Engineering of new-to-nature CO2- and C1-converting enzymes
in vitro synthetic metabolic networks
Transplantation of new CO2-metabolism into natural cells
Phototrophic chassis


Return back to:
General Research Area Overview
Department Overview
Group Overview


Go to Editor View