Polymer films are widely used as barriers to protect objects from their environments or improve their performance.? What if tiny nano- or micron-sized objects could also be wrapped in thin layers of polymer films? Would they also gain benefits from their inclusion in wrappers in the same ways as macroscopic objects do? These questions lead to tantalising possibilities. For example, the wrapping of next-generation vaccines based upon virus-like particles (VLPs) may improve their stabilities and lower their reliance on expensive cold chains. Perhaps engineered bacteria or mammalian cells can be wrapped, allowing their integration into engineered biofilms or tissues. Or their adverse immunogenicity could be minimized, allowing them to be more effective next-generation therapeutics. Perhaps even pathogens can be selectively targeted and wrapped in polymer film before they are able to cause infections. The aim of this project is to develop an approach to wrap a virus-like particle within a layer of cross-linked polymer film. We will also incorporate the capability for triggered unwrapping, allowing the polymer wrapper to be removed upon the application of a simple chemical trigger. Unleashing this new capability will reveal new lines of exploration focused on the wrapping and subsequent utilization of tiny biological objects.
In this interdisciplinary project you will learn to apply a combination of chemical and enzymatic synthesis, bacterial protein expression and purification, polymer chemistry and biophysical methods (e.g. dynamic light scattering, isothermal titration calorimetry) to develop supramolecular chemistry methods for nanoscale engineering. The project will involve close collaboration between two students based at University of Leeds and Newcastle University who will develop complementary aspects of the project. Applicants should have a first degree in chemistry, biochemistry or a related subject, and a strong interest in biological and supramolecular chemistry. It is possible for students to start before October 2022.