Tom Robinson

Dr. Tom Robinson

Theory & Bio-systems Lab, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam-Golm, Germany

Title: From multi-compartment biomimetic systems to membrane fusion using the bottom-up approach

Understanding the biological cell at its minimal complexity can unravel the role of specific components in existing complex cellular systems. To this end, the “bottom-up” approach of synthetic biology aims to build-up simple biological cell analogues from individual chemical building blocks. The final aim being the creation of a complex but controllable system which reflects natural cellular processes. Aided by microfluidic technology, our starting point in this direction is to create and build-up synthetic lipid vesicles as biomimetic systems. Here, I will present two such systems: (i) multi-compartment vesicular structures and (ii) membrane fusion.

Compartmentalization is a delineating evolutionary step that separated eukaryotes from prokaryotes. In the process of mimicking cellular systems, developing artificial multi-compartment systems is a logical step in the creation of an artificial cell. We aim to establish vesicles-in-vesicles or “vesosomes” as our compartmentalised system. Droplet-based microfluidic technology is used to increase the production efficiency as it allows precise size control of our lipid vesicles and increased encapsulation. Here we present our progress towards reliable microfluidic vesosome creation and their subsequent applications including compartmentalised enzymatic reactions and cell polarisation.

Biomembrane fusion is an essential requirement for many cellular processes including neurotransmission, exocytosis, and viral infection. It is crucial for cells to spatially confine fusion events to specific organelles or sites in the plasma membrane. In nature, this process is mediated by the SNARE protein complex. Inspired by this, we use SNARE mimetic systems based on lipidated peptides or DNA to achieve site specific fusion events at membrane domains. Here microfluidic systems are used to isolate single giant vesicles for analysis and to bring multiple vesicles together for live fusion assays.