Directed evolution as a tool in Synthetic Biology
One of the goals of Synthetic Biology is to establish a ‘bottom-up’ approach to assemble biological systems. However, our understanding of biological systems is not complete and biology, while diverse, has not explored all possibilities. Hence, rational design of biological systems or new-to-nature functions is not yet possible.
Biology is extensive but not thorough.
Directed evolution, through cycles of diversification and selection, can bypass those limitations – accessing novel functions and potentially bypassing knowledge gaps. It can also do that on a scale not possible to engineering, potentially sampling over a trillion designs in a single experiment.
We are interested in all aspects of directed evolution, including theoretical, technical and in its application. Supported by a multidisciplinary approach, our aim is to establish a ‘design, build, test, learn’ cycle using directed evolution to engineer new enzymes and to redesign biology.
Xenobiology and biological orthogonality
Many biological processes are conserved throughout the tree of life, and can remain compatible across a wide range of species (e.g. the Central Dogma and the genetic code). However, in some instances, it is possible for two biological systems to operate correctly alongside and without interfering with each other, i.e. orthogonal.
Orthogonality can be exploited for applications and to gain deeper insight into our natural biological systems. We are interested in exploring how orthogonal biological systems can be engineered to be, in particular whether genetic information can be stored in vivo in molecules other than DNA and RNA, i.e. in XNAs. Our goal is to establish orthogonal platforms that can be used to investigate fundamental biological processes and to develop new biotechnological applications.
New antimicrobials and biomaterials
The tools and approaches being developed in the group are enabling technologies and can be applied to areas in which there are pressing needs for novel solutions. We presently focus on the characterisation and engineering of post-translationally modified microcins.