Biological Sciences

Events and seminars

SynthSys Seminar Series - Application of cell free synthetic gene networks in materials

Dr Thomas Howard (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University)

1st September 2022 at 12:00pm [Download iCalendar / .ics file]

C.H Waddington Building, Seminar room 1.08

Living organisms are capable of rapidly and sensitively responding to a wide range of environmental stimuli. At the cellular level, responses to such stimuli can be mediated through gene regulatory networks. These gene regulatory networks are highly sensitive, specific and modular. Synthetic biology tools can be used to create synthetic gene networks (SGNs) with comparable specificity and sensitivity to gene regulatory networks found in nature. These SGNs are typically implemented within cells, though there are a growing number of examples of SGNs that can operate in a cell-free environment, using cell-free protein expression protocols. These devices may operate in solution or supported by a solid matrix, for example on paper. Our group is exploring the possibility of using cell-free SGNs to functionalise materials. The aim is to develop tractable and programmable cell-free SGNs that can be embedded into materials to augment their function. To do this, we rely on a combination of iterative learning encompassing Design of Experiments (DoE), statistical and mathematical modelling and automated liquid handling. This seminar will discuss our work in this area, as well as reflecting on our experiences in implementing DoE within a biotechnology setting.



Dr Howard trained as a plant biochemist and molecular biologist interested in the regulation of carbon metabolism. He completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield, before working at the University of Essex and the John Innes Centre. During this time, he characterised rapid, reversible protein-protein interactions that regulate the activities of carbon-fixing enzymes, studied the movement of carbon within plants, and investigated the genetics and biochemistry of starch biosynthesis. In 2011, Dr Howard moved to the University of Exeter where his interest in carbon flux continued, accompanied by a move from a reductionist approach to a constructionist one. Instead of dissecting metabolic pathways, he began building them. In 2015, Dr Howard moved to Newcastle University where he has since established his own research group. His group’s work focusses on developing methods to facilitate building and understanding complex biological systems, with particular interest in small-scale laboratory automation, statistical Design of Experiments and cell-free systems.

Host Lynne Regan

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