University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > BSS Formal Seminars > Engineered protein pores as components of soft micromachines

Engineered protein pores as components of soft micromachines

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One goal of synthetic biology is the manufacture of micromachines from simple parts. Such machines would be motile, able to generate, store and use energy, capable of sensing and carrying out computation, and able to take up substrates and convert them to products. We have found that aqueous droplets can be connected by lipid bilayers to form networks in a hydrocarbon environment. We propose that these networks can be used as the basis for the construction of “soft micromachines”, in contrast to nano- and microdevices made from relatively rigid parts such as DNA and protein rods.

Proteins can be incorporated in to the bilayers of the networks, which we have termed “droplet interface bilayers”. Therefore, we propose that membrane proteins will play a major role in the functioning of droplet-based micromachines. Towards this end, we have engineered the staphylococcal alpha-hemolysin pore by genetic manipulation and chemical modification to endow it with a variety of properties. For example, we have been able to alter the pore size, and its ion selectivity and rectification properties. We have also altered the pore so that it can be regulated by chemicals, light and temperature. With these components, we have shown that droplet networks can behave like simple electrical circuits, be used to form tiny batteries and respond to light. With these subsystems in place, the manufacture of the proposed micromachines may be in the offing.

This talk is part of the BSS Formal Seminars series.

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