Synthetic Biology and the Extracellular Matrix

From the University of Bristol: "Synthetic biology is about improving our ability to engineer biology, and to engineer biology you have to understand the underlying chemistry. ... We look at natural molecules and ask, 'How does nature do this?' And then we take those key features and build them into synthetic molecules to mimic the natural ones. ... Specifically, Woolfson is trying to capture features of the materials that hold cells together and which provide the environment to turn collections of cells into tissues such as skin, liver and networks of nerves. This 'glue' is called the extracellular matrix (ECM). However, the ECM is made up of large, complicated molecules with lots of different chemistries, so Woolfson began to investigate whether it would be possible to build something similar to ECM, but out of much simpler and more chemically accessible materials. That was 10 years ago. Today he has developed nano-sized proteins that have been designed to 'self assemble' into long, spaghetti-like strings, which then become entangled to form a gel. ... The result is a hydrogel (a gel in which the liquid constituent is water) made up of these tiny, spaghetti-like strings of proteins which acts as a scaffold to support cell growth in much the same way as the ECM does."



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