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Polymeric Membranes for Artificial Endosymbionts

Project description

A new biocompatible approach to achieving artificial endosymbiosis

Endosymbionts are organisms that live inside a host organism often in a mutualistic relationship. Two major types of organelles in eukaryotic cells, mitochondria and plastids such as chloroplasts, are considered to be bacterial endosymbionts. Inspired by nature, synthetic biology has enabled us to tweak the host’s molecular biology to fit another organism with the ultimate aim of developing whole genetic circuits and metabolic pathways. Masking the guests with biocompatible polymers, will increase our ability to achieve artificial endosymbiosis. Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, the PolyMAE project will investigate a novel technique for encapsulating prokaryotes into biocompatible shells, offering a new route to the straightforward production of bio-orthogonal, artificial endosymbionts.


Synthetic biology has constantly been expanding its reach, aiming to develop whole genetic circuits and metabolic pathways, which require laborious genetic engineering. Often, such pathways derive from other organisms and must be tweaked to fit the host’s molecular biology, adding to the complexity of the task. However, nature has already witnessed the integration of whole prokaryotic organisms into eukaryotic hosts, where they are integrated as endosymbionts creating new combinations that live with mutual benefit. In evolutionary history, this phenomenon was at the origin of organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts, which added their own metabolism to their hosts. To achieve a more generalized framework, where any prokaryote can enter endosymbiosis with any eukaryote, we need to induce the uptake and retention of the guest by the eukaryotic host. A way forward will be by masking the guests with biocompatible polymers, either pre-formed, or synthesized by the bacterium itself. The project proposed herein offers a novel technique for the the encapsulation of prokaryotes into biocompatible shells, creating a new strategy for the straightforward production of bio-orthogonal, artificial endosymbionts. After the formation of the polymer shell around bacteria, they will be endocytoted by eukaryotes, thus expanding the biochemical potentialities of cells, revolutionizing the possibilities of synthetic biology, acting as true artificial organelles. This breakthrough will allow the functional insertion whole genomes into the host cells and the combination of micro-organisms, which will have implications in medicinal, industrial and environmental biotechnology. It will lead to the creation of complex, semi-synthetic hybrid organisms able to perform a vast variety of non-natural biotransformations. In line with the 2020 Work Programme, it will open up several diverse possibilities that will benefit European and global industries.


Net EU contribution
€ 109 194,25
Karolinenplatz 5
64289 Darmstadt

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Hessen Darmstadt Darmstadt, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Participants (1)