Synthetic biology-enabled new generation biosensors to tackle global health and environmental challenges

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Baojun Wang  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The traditional laboratory-based analytical assays for disease biomarkers and environmental contaminants are expensive, time consuming and normally require specialised personnel and complex equipment. This restricts their use in resource limited areas and developing countries where lack sufficient skilled personnel and healthcare facilities to rapidly identify the risks. There is therefore an urgent need to provide simple cost-effective, fast on-site sensing solutions for toxins (e.g. arsenic or pesticides), pathogens (e.g. bacteria and viruses) and metabolites (e.g. phenylalanine in phenylketonuria) associated with various diseases and contaminated water or land resources.
This project aims to use innovative synthetic biology approaches to develop new generation biosensors to address these daunting global health and environmental challenges. In particular, we will develop robust, fast, inexpensive and portable cell-free biosensors embedded in paper or hydrogel materials that are readily deployable in the field with minimal human intervention and resource requirement. The project is based on our prior ample experience and expertise in engineering synthetic cell-based biosensors for environmental toxins and water contaminants with programmable sensitivity and selectivity. Advanced signal processing and amplifying gene networks may be used within these sensor circuits to substantially boost sensor sensitivity and output amplitude to fulfil their real world detection requirements. Novel encapsulation and packaging methods will also be developed to significantly increase the robustness, stability and shelf life of the resulting sensors. The technology developed will find diverse applications in the environmental, biotechnological and biomedical settings.
The project will provide you a comprehensive training of advanced molecular and genetic tools, innovative microbiology, bioelectronics and bioprinting techniques and computational skills. This project will be supervised by Dr Baojun Wang, a group leader in the world-leading Centre of Synthetic and Systems Biology of the University of Edinburgh, giving the student an interdisciplinary research experience in the fields of synthetic biology and global health as well as opportunity of working with leading industrial partners in the field.

Further information about the lab can be found at and informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed].

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Funding Notes

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Wan et al. “Cascaded amplifying circuits enable ultrasensitive cellular sensors for toxic metals”, Nature Chemical Biology, 2019, 15(5):540–548
Liu et al. “Engineered CRISPRa enables programmable eukaryote-like gene activation in bacteria”, Nature Communications, 2019, 10:3693
Slomovic et al. “Synthetic biology devices for in vitro and in vivo diagnostics”, PNAS, 2015, 112:14429–35

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