EPSRC New Investigator Award 2020 for research on protocellular materials

Dr Pierangelo Gobbo, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the School of Chemistry of the University of Bristol, has won an EPSRC New Investigator Award worth £392k.

Fluorescently tagged protocells chemically assembled into a prototissue spheroid of ca. 100 µm in diameter. Image from Nature Materials 201817, 1145–1153.

Dr Gobbo explains: “Currently, the research field of bottom-up synthetic biology is trying to fill the gap between biology and chemistry to better understand how the non-living becomes alive. To do this, attempts have been made to construct what are called protocells. These are cell-like entities created from scratch using only a limited toolbox of molecules, materials, and chemical reactions.

While many research teams are currently focusing on advancing the biochemical complexity of individual protocells, I believe that the future of this research field will see the use of protocells as building blocks to generate unprecedented adaptive and autonomous forms of biomaterials that will be capable of emulating living tissues.

My proposed work therefore aims to pioneer new research frontiers in bottom-up synthetic biology by developing the first chemical reactions and experimental methodologies to start organising millions of protocells into self-standing protocellular materials that are stable in water, highly modular and capable of autonomously adapting and responding to their environment. We call these new materials protocellular materials. The development of protocellular materials will help bridge the gap between biology and chemistry and potentially lead to important applications in microbioreactor technology, diagnostics, personalised therapy, wastewater treatment, and soft robotics.”The EPSRC New Investigator Award supports researchers who have recently acquired their first independent academic lectureship position, have not previously led an academic research group or been the recipient of a significant grant.

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