Dekker awarded ERC Advanced Grant for synthetic cells

(Originally posted by Delft University of Technology)

June 15, 2015

Liposomen on a chip
Liposomen on a chip, as a model system for synthetic cells (Picture credit: Dekker group TU Delft).

Scientist Cees Dekker, Director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant by the European Union for research into synthetic cell division. He will receive €2.5 million for his new five-year research programme.

Synthetic cell division

Bionano scientist Cees Dekker aims to achieve synthetic cell division within five years. To do this, he wants to construct liposomes (soap bubble-type vesicles containing a watery solution of proteins and DNA), which can divide spontaneously via a protein ring around the circumference of the liposome, which can contract.


Dekker intends to focus on both the protein rings and the matter of positioning the ring in the correct place in the middle. He will approach this from 3 angles:

Cells in nanofabricated shapes. Dekker will study living E.coli bacteria in various different artificial shapes (triangular, square...) Studying living cells in these nanoshapes will enable him to unravel the organisation principles (in time and space) of the cell division machinery.

Proteins and DNA in ‘nanochambers’. The scientists will also study the proteins that play a role in cell division by adding them to controlled nanochambers as separate components. This will provide information about the spatial organisation of the patterns of Min proteins and chromatin, which determine the position of the division ring.

Liposomes on a chip. Dekker is developing a chip-based technology for creating liposomes for the benefit of research into cell division. He wants to use this to generate autonomous division of the liposome, thereby enabling a simplified but verifiable form of synthetic cell division.

Bottom-up biology

The nanofabrication approach to synthetic cell division chosen by Dekker's group is unique. Dekker thinks that this will make an important contribution to knowledge of the cell division process, and expects to have mastered synthetic cell division within five years. According to him, the mix of nanophysics and synthetic biology will lead to a deeper understanding of the biophysical foundations of cell division, and represent a crucial step forwards in ‘bottom-up biology’: the construction of a synthetic cell from separate components.



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