Electrochemistry Meets Synthetic Biology

The ability to build flexible energy regeneration devices that can process a variety of substrates and convert them into suitable forms of energy will be invaluable in future. The conventional catalysts or biocatalysts are not able to “digest” complex substrates ending up in only partial fuel utilization. In this respect we extend toolboxes of classical (bio)electrochemistry by synthetic biology. By following a bottom-up approach of the synthetic biology our motivation is to assembly such synthetic cells which can convert chemical energy of a nutrient (“fuel”) or even light into another energy form, such as ATP or electricity. Oppositely electrical energy (or ATP) can be used to “fuel” the synthetic cell, in order to perform other energy intensive tasks. The major outcome of this case can be the chemical synthesis. These molecular machines can be understood as man-made synthetic cells performing functions which do not exist in nature. In this project we collaborate closely with MaxSynBio Network for bottom-up synthetic biology.

Within bottom-up synthetic biology, we consider the proteins and electron shuttles, which constitute oxidative phosphorylation electron transfer chain as essential building blocks or functional parts, needed to engineer an energy conversion device, like “artificial mitochondrion” [1] This machinery should be integrated in a suitable interface (e.g., phospholipid or polymer membranes) and should involve some form of compartmentalization to enable the generation of proton motive force. more
In this project, principles of photophosphorylation are mimicked in order to bottom up assemble light-to ATP artificial organelles (Figure 1a). They employ a complex transmembrane enzyme ATP synthase inserted in membranes of nano-sized compartments in the form of vesicles for ATP synthesis. more
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