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Controlling fission and fusion shape transitions in artificial cells with self-assembled nanoparticles


Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

About the Project

Over the past two decades, our physical understanding of biological cells has seen significant advances through reconstruction of model systems composed of minimal sets of biomolecular components that recapitulate complex biological processes. Biological matter has now become amenable to a materials engineering paradigm where novel biological ’machines’ can be dismantled and designed. By combining the bottom-up assembly of biological and synthetic molecules and nanoparticles, we aim to create innovative, functional soft matter inspired by the sophisticated autonomous and adaptive properties of natural cells. These artificial cells will have wide-ranging bionanotechnology/medicinal applications in diverse fields, including pharmaceutics, green energy and environmental remediation.

A fundamental structural characteristic of biological matter is the compartmentalisation of its chemistry by membranes, separating distinct functional organelles within a cell or interfacing the cell with its external environment. However biological membranes are not static interfaces and undergo dynamic fission/fusion processes to facilitate essential functions including signalling, chemical transport and replication. We have recently discovered that addition of self-assembled nanoparticles (saNPs) to the static membranes of giant vesicles ’breathes life’ into these materials triggering a complex series of dynamic topological shape transitions analogous to those known to occur in biological cells.

This project aims to develop a detailed understanding of this phenomenology and strategies to control and harness these properties in artificial cell materials for biotechnology applications. A combination of quantitative fluorescence microscopy imaging, small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), cryo-TEM and fluorescence spectroscopy will provide detailed insight into the mechanisms and interactions at play. Understanding how to turn on and off these dynamic nanoparticle-membrane interactions will be important within this control, where stable encapsulation of these saNPs inside vesicular cells may also be desirable as synthetic organelles with high surface area for efficient energy generation analogous to the mitochondria and chloroplasts of natural cells. Ultimately we aim to demonstrate a proof of principle chemical signalling process in vesicles triggered by saNPs.

Funding Notes

A highly competitive EPSRC Bragg Centre Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship consisting of the award of fees with a maintenance grant of £15,285 (currently for session 2020/21) for 3.5 years.
This opportunity is open to all applicants, with a small number of awards for Non-UK applicants limited by UKRI to 1. All candidates will be placed into the EPSRC Bragg Centre Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.

For more details on the Bragg Centre PhD scheme and instructions on how to apply, visit View Website

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