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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T01508X/1
Title: Programmed assembly of protocellular materials
Principal Investigator: Rochat, Dr S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 July 2020 Ends: 30 June 2023 Value (£): 392,155
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biomaterials Synthetic biology
Tissue Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Dec 2019 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 3 and 4 December 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Life is an expression of molecular chemistry. We know that living cells and tissues are an assembly of molecules that are reacting and interacting with each other. However, we also know that a molecule is not alive and that a chemical reaction is not alive. So why is it that cells and tissues are alive?

With this big scientific question in mind, in recent years, researchers in the field of synthetic biology are trying to fill this gap between life sciences and physical sciences by making the first steps towards the bottom-up development of synthetic cell-like entities, called protocells. They showed that protocells can be built from unanimated molecules and materials such as phospholipids, polymers or even inorganic nanoparticles, and can be chemically programmed to mimic basic functions of living cells such as spontaneous growth and division, phagocytosis, or gene-directed protein synthesis. While many research teams are currently focusing on increasing the levels of biofunctionality and autonomy by advancing the protocells biochemical complexity, Dr Gobbo's research aims to pioneer a new research frontier by starting to spatially organise protocells into protocellular materials (or prototissues) that are stable in water and are capable of emulating living tissues. To achieve this ambitious objective, Dr Gobbo is bringing together in an original and synergistic manner key aspects of synthetic and materials chemistry in combination with synthetic biology. More specifically, his proposed work aims to tackle the following exciting challenges of protocellular materials design and synthetic construction: 1) the development of methodologies for the assembly of protocellular materials; 2) the development of communication pathways within protocellular materials; and 3) the applications of protocellular materials in tissue-engineering and synthetic biology.

Achieving forms of fully functional, adaptive and autonomous protocellular materials endowed with a programmable rudimentary form of internalised metabolism would represent an unprecedented scientific achievement. Furthermore, the synthesis of such a form of "active matter" will substantially help bridge the gap between physical and biological sciences, and have profound technological, philosophical, and socioeconomic implications.

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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk