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Design of Self-Organising Circuits for Multicellular Systems

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Suzy Stoodley.

Multicellular organisms are produced and maintained by coordination of individual cell behaviours and properties, leading to specification of cell types, formation of morphology, and functional specialisation. Since all cells are genetically identical, the systems that give rise to multicellularity are distributed and self-organising. We know that intercellular signals, and downstream genetic regulation, can lead to spatial/temporal patterns of gene expression. In turn, expression of particular genes can result in variation in growth properties in different cells. I am interested in designing synthetic systems that produce patterns of gene expression, and using those patterns to generate novel morphologies by inducing differential growth properties.

My approach is to develop simple modular circuits, which can then be composed into more complex hierarchical systems. Using confocal microscopy and computational methods, I have developed tools for analysing and modelling the co-organisation of patterns and morphology at the cellular scale in bacteria (B. subtillis, E. coli) and plants (Arabidopsis, Marchantia). Although bacteria are unicellular, they do exhibit organised gene expression and morphology in biofilms and colonies. Combined with their rapid growth and relative ease of modification, this makes them an ideal model or prototyping system for engineering. Design of plant-based systems is then reduced to the translation from a working bacterial prototype, which is aided by modelling. I will present these methods, and describe how I will apply them to design, implement, and test novel self-organising morphogenetic systems in bacteria, and show some possibilities for translation to plants.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Research Seminars series.

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