EPSRC logo

Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N026489/1
Title: Grow-Your-Own Composites: Programming Diverse Material Properties for Defence into Engineered Bacterial Cellulose
Principal Investigator: Ellis, Professor TM
Other Investigators:
Lee, Professor K Masouros, Dr S
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Bioengineering
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 15 April 2016 Ends: 29 February 2020 Value (£): 542,617
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biomaterials Materials testing & eng.
Synthetic biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Feb 2016 EPSRC DSTL Synthetic Biology for Protective Materials Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Bacterial cellulose is a strong, ultrapure form of the biomaterial nanocellulose, which is naturally made in large amounts by several species of Acetobacter bacteria including K. rhaeticus. Bacterial cellulose is cheap to produce, has desirable purity, high crystallinity and tensile properties and does not contain other impurities like those found in plant cellulose. It is mouldable, biocompatible and capable of storing water over 90% of its total weight, and has found numerous commercial applications in medical wound-dressings, high-end acoustics, and many other diverse products.

In this proposal, we plan to build on our recent success guiding the Imperial College 2014 iGEM team in developing genetic manipulation methods and a synthetic biology toolkit for K. rhaeticus, the first toolkit of note for bacteria that produce cellulose in high yields. Our vision is to use synthetic biology methods to modify the production of bacterial cellulose from K. rhaeticus so that the bacterial cultures now produce programmable cellulose composites that have diverse and highly-desired material properties, ideally for defence applications. By using our synthetic biology tools and expanding this toolkit with further features such as genome editing and light-based control, we will be able to alter and control bacteria at the DNA level so that they now can be made to secrete modified bacterial cellulose with different bulk properties such as altered hydrophobicity. We will also use our toolkit to get our growing bacteria to produce interwoven mixtures of bacterial cellulose and other biomaterials such as bioplastics, functional proteins (e.g. enzymes) and protein polymers (e.g. curli fibres and silks). The result will be a variety of biosynthesised nanocellulose composites, likely to have valuable material properties that improve the strength and ductility of materials fabricated with this substrate, without increasing the weight and cost significantly further. Combining our team's considerable expertise in synthetic biology, composite engineering and blast research, we will together develop methods to safely convert these bacterial cellulose composites into lightweight layered composite materials and into advanced aerogels that match the material properties desired for defence applications in protection and shock absorption and more. We will test the mechanical properties of our new biosynthesised composites and use this to feedback to improved second-generation designs. Our project brings together Synthetic Biology and Advanced Materials, two of the UK's Eight Great Technologies, and will lay the foundations for using DNA-based engineering of cells to produce advanced biomaterial composites with many diverse and valuable future applications.

Key Findings
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Potential use in non-academic contexts
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Description This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Date Materialised
Sectors submitted by the Researcher
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Project URL:  
Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk