Recently, researchers in the field of bottom-up synthetic biology have developed different models of non-living cell-like entities, termed protocells. Protocells are designed to mimic basic aspects of living cells and have potential applications in various emerging technologies. Prototissues comprise networks of protocell consortia that communicate and display synergistic functions. Though the current designs contribute much to the development of bottom-up synthetic biology, they lack robustness and the complexity required to perform higher-order functions. The aim of this proposal is to advance the prototissue design to create prototissues capable of higher-order functions (i.e. photo-mechano-chemical transduction). The prototissues will be created by stratifying and patterning populations of specialised protocells. As a result, the prototissue will be able to self-regulate the amount of luminous energy received from the environment by opening and closing cyclically. This movement enables the prototissue to tune its endogenous photocatalytic reactivity, producing waves of an output chemical signal. The expertise of the applicant in photochemistry, materials and nanomaterials chemistry will be applied to the emerging field of prototissue engineering, area in which the hosting supervisor is an emerging leader. The approach will be focussed on the generation of macroscopic free-standing prototissue sheets with complex architectures. This process will be used to create phototropic prototissues upon exploiting photoresponsive hydrogels encapsulated in their building blocks. The resulting phototropic prototissues will be modified in order to contain building blocks with photocatalytic synthetic proto-organelles. Collectively, the outcome of this proposal will: kickstart a new area of bottom-up synthetic biology; provide a new approach to the construction of out-of-equilibrium systems; and deliver new materials with applications in tissue engineering and soft robotics.
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