An ambitious goal posed by synthetic biology is the bottom-up construction of a functional cell. Recently, a droplet-based bilayer platform termed ‘droplet interface bilayer’ was developed. Nanoliter-sized lipid-encased water droplets can be arranged in networks of desired patterns, forming electrical connections between them via membrane pores. The droplets can also be encapsulated in a hydrogel matrix opening new directions for bottom-up protocell / prototissue construction.
The key to designing functional protocells is understanding the engineering principles of molecular construction at all biological scales (nanometer, nm – millimeter, mm). To this end, I am studying the structural mechanics of protein assemblies, specifically the nuclear lamina, using atomic force microscopy, cryo-electron tomography and in silico approaches. Besides paving the way to rationally design synthetic systems for bio-nanotechnology, the combined approach provides understanding of the structure-function of the macromolecular assembly involved in diseases from a materials science perspective, the underlying goal of ‘materiomics’.