In 1988, the famous physicist Richard Feynman wrote on a Caltech chalkboard: 'What I cannot create I do not understand'. This phrase captures the central goal of the emerging field of synthetic biology in which scientists challenge the bewildering complexity of nature by building new biological systems using forward engineering principles. Typically, synthetic biology is “top down” in the sense that it uses cellular platforms and then re-engineers the cellular circuitry for some desired purpose. Another approach to engineering novel biological systems works strictly from the “bottom up” in the sense that it attempts to construct complex biochemical networks under cell-free conditions. The analysis, modeling, and experimental study of such minimal biological systems is a promising route for understanding the fundamental design principles and molecular logic of regulatory networks in living cells. Currently, we are using enzymatic and cell-free genetic circuits to design complex biochemical networks using computational tools and employing micro-engineering tools to control biochemical reactions in space and time. At the same time, we are building complex cell-free signaling cascades on DNA origami (in collaboration with L. Brunsveld).
Microfluidics is a new technology consisting of the design and manufacturing of devices that can control and manipulate the flow of fluids in the microliter/nanoliter range. Numerous applications of microfluidics can be found in biomedical engineering ranging from the high-throughput analysis of single-cells to the design of multiplex diagnostic assays. We use microfluidics as an engineering tool to build artificial cells, perform directed evolution of protein libraries (in collaboration with M. Merkx) and as a diagnostic platform by integrating biosensing hydrogels (in collaboration with M. Prins).
Interested? Contact: Tom de Greef