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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X023303/1
Title: Nucleic Acid Nanotechnology Originated ProtoCell - NANOPC
Principal Investigator: Bae, Dr W
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics
Organisation: University of Surrey
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 October 2023 Ends: 30 September 2025 Value (£): 349,885
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Synthetic biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
08 Feb 2023 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 8 and 9 February 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Cells, the basic units of life, are dynamic systems that sense the environment and adapt to it through a variety of responses. Understanding and engineering living cells, although highly rewarding, is greatly challenging, due to the complexity of biochemical networks that underlie a cell's most sophisticated functions. A simpler synthetic alternative to real cells - protocells - can therefore be built to design systems with cell-like traits. Protocells promise to facilitate our understanding of the principles of biology, and could, have important medical and engineering implications. Despite recent progress, current protocell systems fail to mimic core operating principles of cells to continuously operate, interact with the external environment, and process information to make decisions.

Here, we will develop a Nucleic Acid Nanotechnology Originated ProtoCell (NANOPC) system using rationally designed DNA and RNA components. State-of-the-art DNA/RNA nanotechnology will be used to build nanostructures and reaction circuits that mimic proteins and genetic networks of a cell with unprecedented precision. Reaction circuits made of DNA and RNA are fully programmable and can be easily combined to each other, which will allow us in the long run, to build complex multifunctional protocells on demand. In addition, the NANOPC will continuously operate these reaction circuits at dynamic equilibrium by using my recent achievement to produce RNA components in situ. The reaction circuits will be used to control the uptake of nutrients from the external environment, implementing sensing-mediated controls for example, in feedback loops.

By programming NA nanostructures and reaction circuits, the NANOPC will be able to implement emergent cellular behaviours such as the ability to maintain its internal stability (homeostasis) and processing information. Therefore, the NANOPC will be a novel platform to study basic principles of biology. The versatility of DNA/RNA nanotechnology will ultimately enable NANOPC to generate biomedical and engineering applications. For example, the NANOPC could be a high throughput platform for prototyping biochemical networks or a smart drug delivery system to sense tumour microenvironment, process multiple information to release drugs.

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