Research Projects in MaxSynBio

The organizational structure of the research network reflects the modular approach to the synthesis of cellular systems. It consists of four major elements, namely the project clusters T, L and S, 4 independent junior research groups, centralized facilities, and the coordination module.

The research activities of MaxSynBio are grouped into 3 clusters:

·        Project Cluster T provides Enabling Technologies in order to realize the reconstitution of the five selected life processes. Basically we require to major technologies: biomimetic compartments and protein tools. Biomimetic compartments are essential for mimicking real-world cellular life processes in confined systems. Work Package T1 Compartments develops methods and tools for the self-assembly of compartments, for making a high number of copies of such compartments in a reproducible manner, and for reconstituting dedicated proteins (obtained from Work Package T2) in cell-like microcontainers, and for characterizing functionalized compartments in detail. The types of artificial cellular containers investigated in MaxSynBio are hybrid vesicles obtained by microfluidic technologies. In Work Package T2 Integrated Protein Modules a whole knowledge base (protocols and data banks) on expression and purification for dedicated proteins needed is established, for synthesizing functional parts to be used in modules of minimal life systems.

·        Project Cluster L Life-mimicking processes assembles the Work Packages representing the five selected life processes. Work Package L1 is primarily developing energy supply and cofactor regeneration modules which can be integrated into the dedicated minimal systems mimicking life processes, e.g. cell division in Work Package L4 or motility in Work Package L5. Moreover, modules for energy supply and cofactor regeneration are needed in Work Package L2 for the multi-step enzymatically catalyzed conversion of substrates into useful chemicals. Due to fact that also the growth of cells is an essential part of the proliferom, this life process has been adopted as research topic in the new Work Package L3. Minimal systems of division (Work Package L4), and signaling and motility (Work Package L5) are being developed and investigated in detail.

·        The third Project Cluster S Systems Perspectives takes a bird view on synthetic biology and a system-wide approach. The computer-aided analysis and synthesis of minimal life systems remains the core activity of Work Package S1 (Theory of Self-organizing Synthetic Biosystems) which is the systems engineering element of MaxSynBio. Last but not least, it is indispensable to establish within the consortium a scientific working force that is concerned with ethical and societal aspects of Synthetic Biology. This was implemented via Work Package S2 (Ontologies of Life and Ethics).

Therefore, Clusters and Work Packages in MaxSynBio are

  • Cluster T: Enabling Technologies
    • Work Package T1: Compartments
    • Work Packages T2: Functional Proteins
  • Cluster L: Life-mimicking processes
    • Work Package L1: Energy
    • Work Package L2: Metabolism
    • Work Package L3: Growth
    • Work Package L4: Division
    • Work Package L5: Signaling and Motility
  • Cluster S: Systems Perspectives
    • Work Package S1: Theory of Self-organizing Synthetic Biosystems
    • Work Package S2: Ontologies of Life and Ethics

In the first funding period our consortium has established a sustainable infrastructure that is essential for the proposed bottom-up Synthetic Biology approach and is now accessible by all partners and the junior groups. This infrastructure consists of two centralized Technology Platforms, namely a Microfluidic Systems Facility (at the MPI-DS, Göttingen), a Facility for Cell-Free Protein Expression (at the MPI-B, Martinsried) and the Dortmund Protein Facility (DPF at the MPI-MP, Dortmund). These platforms are directly embedded into the projects clusters via Work Package T1 and T2, respectively.

In parallel to the implementation of the project clusters and the technology platforms, the consortium has performed an international search symposium for identifying the younger, high-potential leaders to become heads of the four independent MaxSynBio Research Groups. This task was accomplished successfully with the appointment of the following scientists:

  • Dr. Tom Robinson: MaxSynBio research group at MPI-KG (Golm/Potsdam)
  • Dr. Dora Tang: MaxSynBio research group at MPI-CBG (Dresden)
  • Dr. Seraphine Wegner: MaxSynBio research group at MPI-P (Mainz)
  • Dr. Hannes Mutschler: MaxSynBio research group at MPI-B (Martinsried)

In full accordance with the original plan fixed in the first MaxSynBio grant proposal, the junior group leaders have fixed their own research programs and prepared funding proposals to MPG/BMBF. After approval of their proposals, the four groups have started their activities in early 2016. All groups receive secured funding for a period of 5 years.

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