Engineering and Mathematical Modeling of Multi-cell Biological Systems: Synthetic Adhesins, Polygonal Phototaxis, and Moving Networks
Multi-cellularity enables organisms and symbiotic systems to achieve complex tasks through collective emergent phenomena and division of labor among cells. My lab utilizes synthetic biology, systems biology, and biophysics approaches to facilitate the engineering and understanding of such multi-cell assemblies. I will speak about three projects:
(1) We developed the first synthetic and optogenetic approaches to cell-cell and cell-surface adhesion that enables the self-assembly and patterning of bacterial aggregates (‘Biofilm Lithography’) [Jin PNAS’18], [Glass Cell’18]. Using these tools, we study how adhesion drive interspecies boundary formation and how antibiotic resistance develops in biofilms.
(2) We discovered polygonal swimming behaviors in Euglena cells in response to light [Tsang Nature Physics’18]. I will discuss how this enables efficient phototaxis strategies, and how multimodal light-stimuli enable to program the behavior of many such microswimmers.
(3) We investigate an understudied class of network models of moving networks, i.e., trees where the network morphology can dynamically change while the overall mass is conserved. We successfully apply this model to various systems, e.g., slime mold behavior and cellular chemotaxis, suggesting universal optimal behavioral strategies in motile network systems.
Overall, our work aims at transformative ability to engineer and control multi-cellular assemblies, which promises new biomedical applications (modular drug biosynthesis, micro-robotics, self-healing materials, new infection treatment strategies) as well as application in other areas (e.g., for bioremediation or as basic research tools to understand microecology and evolution).