▸ Research 1: Multi-Cell Patterns and Forms

 

We use synthetic biology approaches to engineer multi-cell systems with the goal to place distinct cell-types into defined spatio-temporal relationships. This is relevant for, e.g., tissue engineering, or to be able to spatially isolate modules of synthetic compound biosynthesis pathways into neighboring cells.

 

We deploy synthetic tools to control cell-cell adhesion: We developed the first optogenetic method to pattern biofilms onto surfaces ('biofilm lithography') - achieving feature sizes of 25 micrometer (Jin PNAS '18). We also developed the first fully genetically encoded and synthetic cell-cell adhesion toolbox - enabling us to pattern cell assemblies with features sizes of about 5 micrometer (Glass Cell '18).

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To inform these engineering approaches and to identify new ‘algorithms’, we also study the biophysics of suchsynthetic as well as natural multi-cell morphogenesis and patterning processes, e.g., we investigated how signaling delays during lateral inhibition supports robust tissue patterning with single-cell precision during animal development, or how stem cells maintain their density during organ growth and shrinkage in the fly gut through density-dependent differentiation rates.

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Ongoing work focuses on engineering complex synthetic multi-cell systems (e.g., synthetic developmental programs), and incorporating suitable systems into cloud labs for distributed (professional and citizen) research, e.g., to study collective microswimmer phenomena under light perturbations.