The members of the Synthetic Components Network have come together to collaborate about Synthetic Biology from the bottom up. There are currently 39 members from 11 institutions.
The Management Committee is responsible for overseeing the activity of The Network. They meet on a quarterly basis.
The Network Members bring expertise from a broad range of backgrounds, together encompassing biological, engineering, physical and social scientists and those working in the humanities and public engagement of science; a combination of academics, industrialists, and lay people.
Dek Woolfson, Network Primary Investigator
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Bristol
Dek has 20 years research experience in the areas of protein engineering and design and molecular biophysics. His laboratory develops rules to link protein sequence to protein structure and function (the informational aspect of the protein-folding problem), and applies these in the rational design of peptide-based objects and nano-to-mesoscale assemblies, particularly protein fibres, networks and matrices. The group is becoming increasingly interested in Synthetic Biology, particularly in how far de novo peptide and protein design can contribute to this emerging area to create new and functional biomolecular systems of increasing complexity. This new work is being done in collaboration with biologists, chemists and physicists.
Professor of Physical Biochemistry, University of Bristol
Paula has extensive research experience in Chemistry and Physical Biochemistry, notably in the areas of membrane protein folding, assembly and design of functional synthetic biomembranes. The group devises methods to trigger, monitor and modulate membrane protein folding and membrane behaviour. A central focus is the determination of folding and assembly mechanisms, through combined kinetic and thermodynamic investigations. Additionally, much emphasis is placed on controlling the folding process, by manipulation of key properties of the surrounding lipid bilayer. This gives directed control of membrane protein assembly.
Professor of Biotechnology, University of Leeds
John has 25 years research experience in cell biology & biotechnology. His laboratory has expertise in membrane biology and in protein biotechnology, and has been applying engineering principles to biological materials in order to create a series of technologies capable of detecting chemical events in biological settings in real time, of making artificial cellular structures on devices, and developing self-assembly systems subject to physiological control.
Professor of Physics, University of Sheffield
Richard is an experimental physicist with an interest in the properties of macromolecules at interfaces. In collaboration with polymer chemists and theoretical physicists, he has become increasingly interested in the question of how one can use the broad design principles of cell biology – the application of self-assembly and macromolecular conformational change – to make nanoscale devices which begin to achieve some of the functionality of biological systems, such as self-motility and the conversion of chemical to mechanical energy. Jones has also been closely engaged with recent debates about nanotechnology and its broader social impacts, and he is currently the EPSRC’s Senior Strategic Advisor for Nanotechnology.
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics, University of Bristol
Ainsley has 10 years experience with research, teaching and public engagement in bioethics. She has degree qualifications in Science (major in human genetics) Law (majors in medical law and intellectual property) and a PhD in Medical Ethics. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics in Bristol, teaching medical students and health professionals. Her primary research interests focus on ethical issues in human genetics and reproduction, and started to work on ethics and Synthetic Biology over the last couple of years. Ainsley coordinates the FP7 project Synthetic Biology for Human Health: Ethics and Law (SYBHEL), first project to focus in depth on the potential ethical and legal implications of synthetic biology as it applies to human health and wellbeing. She has experience in working with health professionals and scientists, having worked as a research fellow in clinical ethics at Imperial College London (2003-6). Ainsley has led workshops dedicated to exploring ethics and genetics with professionals and the public. She is also an experienced media contributor on bioethics issues and was a British Association Science Media Fellow in 2005.
Jonathan Rossiter, Network Co-Investigator
Senior Lecturer, Department of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol
Jonathan has 10 years experience in the areas of biomimetics, robotics and uncertainty modelling. He is a Royal Society UK-Japan Research fellow. His research focus is on multi-scale biomimetics, the study and development of engineering materials and systems that mimic or are inspired by nature. Of particular relevance to this proposal is his work on soft polymer materials and soft mechanisms, including swimming robots and artificial muscles. He is keen to develop new bio-inspired, bio-integrative, and bio-hydrid soft actuators and sensors. As a coordinating member of the Biological Sciences Interface Group in the Department of Engineering Mathematics he is ideally placed to act as a bridge between the life sciences and engineering.
Reader in Biochemistry, University of Sussex
Lousie has 15 years research experience in the areas of protein misfolding and aggregation and fibrous protein structure. Her laboratory focuses on the elucidation of fibrous protein structure, particularly of misfolded, self-assembling proteins and peptides. She has a particular interest in the contribution of sequence to propensity of a peptide to assemble and how this affects the fibrillar protein architecture. Recent work has included the first X-ray fibre diffraction structure of an amyloid-like designed peptide and development of a program to aid diffraction analysis. The group is becoming interested in exploiting the rules governing protein assembly and how this may contribute to the area of synthetic biology.
Professor of Physics, University of Oxford
Andrew leads the DNA Nanostructures Group that is pioneering techniques of self-assembly based on biomolecular recognition in order to engineer functional nanostructures. The ability of complementary sequences of DNA to recognize and bind to each other are exploited to create complex and programmable architectures, including periodic and aperiodic arrays, and discrete structures such as polyhedra that may be used to encapsulate functional molecules such as proteins. These structures can move: Prof Turberfield's group is developing synthetic molecular motors powered by DNA hybridization and DNA hydrolysis.
Head of the Centre for Public Engagement, University of Bristol
Maggie works at the University of Bristol's Centre for Public Engagement and is acting as Public Engagement advisor to the Network. Maggie is working closely with the Management Committee to develop a portfolio of Public Engagement resources, events and activities.
Research Fellow, University of Bristol
Ross has recently returned to the UK to begin a 5-year Royal Society University Research Fellowship at the University of Bristol. While working with Professor Les Dutton (University of Pennsylvania) he developed the first example of an artificial oxygen transport protein, assembled using simple engineering principles and free from the complexity that often confounds the study of their natural counterparts. Building on this work, his laboratory aims to design and assemble proteins that will integrate functions such as electron/proton transfer and oxygen binding to create catalytically active, artificial oxidoreductases.
Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, University of Bristol
George has over 25 years research experience, initially in the field of somatic cell genetics, but primarily in the study of the molecular mechanisms underlying membrane traffic pathways within mammalian cells. His laboratory utilises a range of molecular cell biological techniques coupled with fixed and live cell imaging. The group actively collaborates with others in the School of Medical Sciences (e.g. George is a member of the MRC Synaptic Plasticity Centre) as well as colleagues in the School of Chemistry and Department of Physics.
Professor of Chemistry Biology, University of Oxford
Hagan works at the interface between chemistry and biology, and particularly in membrane-protein engineering. In particular, his laboratory studies ion channels and pores, and their applications. Current research projects include: engineering membrane channels and pores; high-throughput screening of membrane proteins; single-molecule chemistry in nanoreactrors; and the development and application of droplet interface bilayers
Mario de Bernardo
Professor of Nonlinear Systems and Control, University of Bristol
Mario is Professor of Nonlinear Systems and Control at the Department of Engineering Mathematics where he is a member of the Applied Nonlinear Mathematics group. His research interests are within the broad area of nonlinear systems, on both dynamics and control with applications to engineering and biology. He is well known for his work on the dynamics of piecewise-smooth and complex networks. Recently, his group started working on Synthetic Biology focussing on the modelling, design and control of gene regulatory networks in collaboration with other European institutions. He co-supervised together with Claire Grierson (Biology, University of Bristol) the first team of undergraduate and graduate students from Bristol for the international iGEM competition at MIT in November 2008. The team was awarded the Best Model prize.
Lecturer of Physics, University of Oxford
Richard has 17 years research experience in the areas of theoretical and experimental investigations of rotary molecular motors. His group focuses on single-molecule experiments on rotary molecular motors, primarily the bacterial flagellar motor and ATP-synthase. Torque, speed and elementary stepping events are observed in rotary motors under a wide variety of conditions. Fluorescent labels attached to rotary motor components, and other fluorescent markers (for example of sodium ions that power the flagellar motor) are also observed at single-cell and single-molecule level. This work is being conducted through numerous well-established collaborations with groups in the UK and abroad, including a prize-winning collaboration with Professor Michio Homma in Japan.
Professor of Biochemistry, University of Bristol
Leo is a protein crystallographer with a diverse range of interests, including cell-surface receptor proteins including some that undergo strand- or domain-swapping to form higher-order oligomeric assemblies. The assembly studies were initiated some years ago by their chance discovery that the CD2 Ig domain could be engineered to form metastable dimeric, trimeric and tetrameric strand-swapped species. Other strand-swapped oligomeric species studied within the group include the cell adhesion MadCAM-1 and the neurotrophin Trk receptors, cell-surface receptors also include CD4 and Lutheran. More recently, their interests have also encompassed extended trimeric coiled-coil bacterial adhesin proteins which have structural homology to the designer self-assembly proteins used by Woolfson. The Brady group therefore will contribute to the network structural analysis and experience of cell-surface receptors and proteins that naturally self-assemble.
Unilever Corporate Research, Colworth
Michael has 14 years of experience in the area of polymer physics and, more recently, bio-inspired materials science. He leads a team in Unilever investigating the application of self-assembling systems in the context of developing innovative consumer products in the home and personal care industry. The work takes inspiration from nature, and has studied rationally designed protein biopolymer, block co-polypeptide, peptide assemblies and inorganic hybrid materials based on ‘coccolith-like’ templated assembly, amongst other topics, working across the realms of physics, chemistry and biology as these systems are designed, synthesised and characterised in-vitro and in-vivo. Key interests in the team are in designing and developing functional biomolecular systems that interact with the body, such as in skin, hair, sweat glands or the digestive tract. Michael also brings experience of working with multi-partner consortia (he currently leads a £1.7M DTI consortium) and the application of basic science all the way to product prototypes.
Professor in the Department of Chemistry, Univeristy of Durham
Neil is a synthetic chemist focussing on the preparation of biofunctional macromolecules and macromolecular materials. Currently, his group has a major interest in glycopolymers: synthetic polymers with pendant carbohydrates. Exploiting the recognition of specific sugars by receptor proteins leads to potential applications in areas such as targeted drug delivery, synthetic vaccines and diagnostics. Recent work has shown that block glycopolymers with a hydrophobic non-carbohydrate block spontaneously self-assemble in aqueous solution into nanoscale aggregates (spherical micelles, worm-like micelles and vesicles) with carbohydrate-decorated surfaces. He is keen to develop this work further and in particular views these glycopolymers as potentially important building blocks for Synthetic Biology.
Lecturer, Department of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol
Caroline has 5 years experience applying mathematical modelling approaches to the analysis of a wide variety of biological systems. She has worked on complex biological regulation with delays and applied this work to interacting populations of cells in hematopoietic disease, using both numerical and analytical approaches to understand quantitative and qualitative features of data on oscillating cell numbers. She has since become interested in how biological networks shape the dynamics and function of biological systems at different scales, and has modelled the role of networks in epidemics, and also the regulation of intracellular metabolic networks. Before working on mathematical modelling in biology she studied quantum physics. Dr. Colijn brings expertise in mathematical modelling of complex systems to the Network.
Professor, Department of Chemistry, Oxford
Ben's research centres on chemical biology with an emphasis on carbohydrates and proteins. In particular, the group's interests encompass synthetic protein design and use, synthesis and methodology, inhibitor design, protein engineering, drug delivery, molecular modelling, molecular biology, and glycoscience with the goal of medicinal application. He is co-founder of Glycoform, a small biotechnology company aimed at exploiting the therapeutic potential of glycoproteins. In 2003 he was named as among the 100 top young innovators in the world by Technology Review.
Mark S. Dillingham
Senior Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Bristol
Mark has 10 years research experience in the areas of DNA:protein interactions and DNA-based motor proteins. His laboratory elucidates the mechanisms of proteins involved in DNA break repair using a range of biophysical techniques including single molecule analysis. The molecular gymnastics required to mend broken DNA is orchestrated by a team of protein machines. Such devices catalyse a whole gamut of processing tasks in a highly organised fashion; including tracking along DNA, searching for specific DNA sequences, cutting DNA, compacting or tethering DNA, and exchanging individual DNA strands between homologues. Mark’s research has demonstrated that the origin of complexity in these machines is their highly modular design; the building blocks are smaller protein domains with relatively simple catalytic functionality. Mark is interested in the extent to which these natural mechanisms can be harnessed and modified to create new semi-synthetic machines with novel properties.
Professor, School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leeds
Stephen has 20 years research experience in the areas of organic thin films, surface functionalisation and solid supported lipid membranes. His laboratory has developed methodologies for the fabrication of solid supported, tethered and suspended lipid bilayer membranes. These have application in the development of membrane protein based biosensors and screening. The group is increasingly interested in the formation of active membranes for the in-vitro synthesis of cytoskeletal and bacterial cell wall motifs as well as in the use of electric fields for spatial control of proteins within membranes. This new work is being done in collaboration with engineers, biologists and chemists.
Professor, School of Information Systems, Computing and Mathematics, Brunel University
David's current research activities centre around systems biology, synthetic biology and bioinformatics. Specifically they include methods to design, represent and analyse biochemical networks, developing computational models of protein topology and associated pattern discovery methods for protein classification, and the use of Grid technologies to support eScience for bioinformatics. The main computational approaches David uses are machine learning, graph theory and concurrency analysis.
Professor of Nanobiophysics, University of Bristol
Heinrich has spent his career working at the physics - life science interface, applying techniques from fundamental physics and developing new instrumentation to understand biological systems. His most significant achievements include i) the first demonstration of imaging protein structures using scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM) ii) the first imaging of living cells (visualisation of a virus in transit through the cell wall plasma membrane) using atomic force microscopy (AFM), iii) understanding the structural basis of the elastic properties of single spectrin molecules using AFM force spectroscopy and iv) the invention of the photonic force microscope (PFM), an instrument that utilizes an optical trap instead of the AFM cantilever, capable of imaging in three dimensions within e.g. polymer networks and its subsequent use to demonstrate directly the existence of nanometre sized ‘rafts’ in membranes of living cell, as well as to analyse the changing mechanical properties of molecular motors within their functional cycle.
Lecturer, Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology, University of Leeds
Lars has recently finished a 5-year BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship in membrane biophysics.He has developed new tools to study electron and proton transport properties of membrane proteins, particularly for hybrid organic/inorganic systems in which a lipid membrane and membrane proteins are linked to a conducting surface in a well-defined self-assembly procedure. The lab is interested in continuing this research using 'directed assembly' principles in which new synthetic organic molecules will further direct the self-assembly process.
Lecturer, Protein Science, University of Cardiff
Dafydd is a lecturer in protein science who collaborates with chemists and physicists to explore the structural and functional plasticity of proteins. Using inherent protein plasticity, we generate novel protein-based components for both Synthetic Biology and nanoscience. This includes the construction new artificial protein scaffolds to act as novel molecular switches, regulated self-assembly of biomolecules and evolving proteins with an expanded chemical diversity through the incorporation of non-natural amino acids. Dafydd recently developed a series of directed evolution technologies to implement the protein engineering strategies.
RCUK Research Fellow, Institute of Hazard and Risk Research, Durham University
Matthew's research focuses on the intersection between science, expertise and public culture. In particular he is interested in understanding the ways in which scientific knowledge and technological developments feature in a range of contemporary political debates. While on the one hand scientific innovation has become central to day to day life, it has also created a new set of concerns about potential risks and far-reaching social, ethical and political consequences. Matthew's research focuses on the ways in which debates about technological risk and the governance of science play in the constitution of contemporary understandings of politics and democracy.
Professor of the Sociology of Health Technology, University of the West of England
Julie is a sociologist whose recent research focuses on the emergence of 'regenerative medicine' but her broad interest is in the sociology of health technologies. She has investigated the regulatory and governance issues relating to tissue engineering and stem cell science in the UK and Europe. At the same time she has a particular interest in the ways in which human tissues are used in the development of innovative health technologies. These technologies may be seen as reconfiguring bodies and social relationships. She is therefore interested in the social and ethical implications of Synthetic Biology.
Reader in Molecular Genetics, University of Bristol
Colin has nearly 30 years research experience in plant and fungal molecular biology. Work in his laboratory involves the manipulation of both primary and secondary metabolism, including the production of very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (as found in fish oils) in plants and their conversion to pharmaceutically relevant compounds (eicosanoids). The main focus, in collaboration with colleagues in Chemistry, is on polyketide secondary metabolites of filamentous fungi. Through combinatorial genetics the group attempts to assess the contributions of individual catalytic modules and domains to the intrinsic programming of the iterative multidomain megasynthases involved, with the possibility of generating novel biologically active metabolites.
School of Biological and Chemical Sceinces, Queen Mary Unuiversity London
Ewan is a biochemist whose research area is in biochemistry/molecular biophysics and in particular the folding, design and molecular interactions of proteins. At present his group is focusing on an exciting and ubiquitous family of proteins known as repeat proteins. These have novel repetitive and elongated folds that are radically different from globular proteins. This modular nature has enabled repeat proteins to evolve into molecular recognition scaffolds which mediate a host of critical protein-protein interactions. The combination of non-globular fold and simplistic architecture makes repeat proteins exciting new motifs to study folding, design and molecular interactions. Ewan and his group are interested in exploiting their properties as synthetic interaction components and as model systems for protein folding and design.
Professor of Inorganic & Materials Chemistry, University of Bristol
Ian returned to the UK in 2005 after 15 years in North America. His research interests focus on the development of new synthetic reactions and their applications in molecular synthesis, polymer and materials science, supramolecular chemistry, and nanoscience. His group is increasingly interested in applying the principles of biological self-assembly to develop new functional metallosupramolecular materials with structural hierarchy. Ian and his group bring expertise in transition metal chemistry and synthetic polymer and materials chemistry and self-assembly to the Network.
Professor in the Department of Geography and Director of the Institute of Hazard and Risk Research, Durham
From a background in social psychology, Phil's research focuses on the cultural dimensions of environmental and innovation policy and their intersection with everyday practice. He has published widely on the social science of technology and the environment. His current research addresses questions of public participation and the governance of emerging technologies. He is currently leading a European FP6 project on Deepening Ethical Engagement and Participation in Emerging Nanotechnologies (DEEPEN).
Ruud ter Meulen
Professor in Ethics of Medicine, University of Bristol
Ruud has 18 years of experience in ethical issues in medicine and biotechnology. He was principal investigator of a large number of European projects in bioethics and is now the principal investigator of the ENHANCE project which investigates the ethical issues of the use of biotechnologies and pharmaceutical drugs to improve human functioning in cognition, mood, sports and the extension of the life span. He is involved in international projects for training and research in ethical issues for biotechnology researchers including the BioTethics and the BioTethed project. He has much experience in multi-disciplinary approaches to ethical issues of biotechnology, involving scientists, ethicists, social scientists, practitioners and policy-makers.
Centre for Self Organising Molecular Systems, University of Leeds
Andrew has worked for 20 years in Plymouth Marine Laboratory where he pioneered the electrochemistry of supported phospholipid layers as applied to understanding biological membrane function and for use as a toxicity sensor. He has held numerous research fellowships including two consecutive fellowships at the Agricultural University in Wageningen and a fellowship at the Marine Biological Association of Plymouth. Since joining the University of Leeds he has followed the following themes: phospholipid-peptide interaction, bispyridinium compound toxicity, electrochemical interrogation of antibody-antigen binding, electrically induced phospholipid phase transitions, properties of seawater derived soft matter and impedance analysis of supported phospholipid layers. Currently he is developing a novel toxicity sensor based on modification of biomembrane fluidity and organisation.
Professor of Sciences and Society, University of Bristol
Kathy Sykes is committed to engaging with the public to increase awareness of and, importantly, public participation in research. She endevours to increase the profile of engaging with the public, making it a valued part of what it is to be a scientist.
Professor of Structural Molecular Biology and Deputy Director Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, University of Leeds
Sheena has more than 20 years experience of using biophysical methods to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in protein folding and protein misfolding, using NMR, non-covalent mass spectrometry, kinetic methods and single molecule techniques. Our aim is to be able to paint a molecular diagram of protein folding and misfolding landscapes and to use this knowledge to develop methods to intervene in protein misfolding disorders.
Lecturer in Dynamics, University of Bristol
Chrystel has been working extensively in the area of structural dynamics and acoustics. She has been actively involved in two multidisciplinary research projects on the modelling of damping properties of gradient materials and liquid crystal polymers, involving mechanical engineers, chemists and physicists. Her current research interests are in the micro-macro modelling and design of complex materials, such as tree root like fibers, auxetics and sonic materials. Dr Remillat brings expertise in multiphysics modelling of biological materials and structures and characterisation of the dynamic behaviour of bio-inspired structures and biological materials.
Mathematical Biology, National Institute of Medical Research
William has 30 years research experience in the areas of protein sequence and structure analysis. His laboratory concentrates on the analysis of protein structure at the fold level, developing automatic methods for protein structure comparison and classification (the so-called periodic table of proteins). This extends to an analysis of fold complexity including protein knots. The group is becoming increasingly interested in de novo protein structure prediction and design and has two current projects in to design a novel enzyme (in collaboration with David Baker, U. Washington. and others) and a novel fold for a small protein (with Richard Garrett, U. San Carlos, Brazil). The group also participates in the Oxford IRC in bionanotechnology, working on very large-scale simulations of complex dynamic systems.
@bristol science centre, Bristol
Dan Bird is is the Director of Exhibitions at Bristol's science centre.
Research Development Manager, Science and Engineering, University of Bristol
Simon leads the Science and Engineering activity of the Research Development Team at the University of Bristol.
@bristol science centre, Bristol
Rachel Murray is the Director of Formal Learning at Bristol's science centre.
thinktank, Birmingham science museum
Kenny trained as a Biochemist, and is now the resident scientist at thinktank, where he hosts a portfolio of events for the public and for school children.