Synthetic biology (SynBio)

This field is an emerging field that offers the prospect of the design and construction of new biological pathways and-or systems that do not exist in nature. Using a “bottom-up approach” of assembling the components involved in biochemical pathways, SynBio thus uses engineering tools and principles to assemble new (synthetic) systems.

It has the potential to use exploit our biological understanding in much the same way that circuit design enabled electronics, creating new technologies from living components.

We are interested in a range of applicants to help us develop technologies associated with materials science (for developing membrane technologies to create protocells), engineers and physicists (interested in studying developing platforms for protocell synthesis and-or diagnostics), and chemists (for new reagents to use with synthetic biology).

Research themes

Protocell design

The design of artificial cells or “protocells” that house protein making machinery. Controlling membrane dynamics and surface energies, we create these highly stable artificial cell surogates. These structures, which we have termed protocells, act as a structural analogue of the cell, providing a model chassis that contain the DNA machinery and protein expression systems, necessary to develop new biocatalytic systems. In one example, we are expressing the transporter proteins (EstA) in the protocell polymer membrane and demonstrating the display of catalytic enzymes (such lipases to break down fats) or antibodies (to capture and concentrate/remove microbes);

Diagnostic systems

We develop diagnostic systems that are able to identify the presence of pathogens. Using phage that infect specific bacteria, we insert coloured proteins, such as melanin, into the bacteria, so that they become visible. The technology has broad applications in water engineering, remediation of waste ground, food safety, medical sensing and environmental monitoring.


We are also interested in the use of microfluidics to control the assembly of artificial gene assemblies, creating flow systems that are able to manipulate the way in which biology is constructed. For example in the field of gene assembly, we are using these advanced Lab-on-a-Chip systems to build expression systems capable o performing new syntheses . We aim to link these with our protocell theme, where we create new cells that can perform new functions (e.g. breaking down waste). 

Fuel cells

Finally, we are interested in developing fuel cells based upon engineering bacteria that can participate in electron transfer – in effect using biological fuels (such as sugars) to power devices. Such a system could act as an autonomous biosensing system, where for example the presence of a chemical switches on the sensor sends an alert.