Flagship two - Engineering Biotechnology
Leader: Dr Volker Nock
We bring together rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing technologies from the engineering disciplines to help inform molecular and cellular life sciences. To achieve this, the flagship incorporates a diversity of input from the physical sciences and engineering with the aim to develop new platforms that help unravel the complexity of biology.
We work with cells, animals and plants and our research spans the biological hierarchy from molecules to whole organisms. We are focused on the following broad areas of activity: 3D printed devices for bioseparations, biomolecular interactions on surfaces, biomolecular interactions related to disease, biochemistry on chips and sourcing of advanced materials from nature’s pantry. In a drive to increase cross-disciplinary research, several major projects are currently being funded under this flagship.
The Biomolecular Engineering Research Group in the Department of Chemical & Process Engineering (CAPE), led by PI Professor Conan Fee and Associate Professor Matt Watson of CAPE, have continued BIC’s world-first work on creating porous materials using 3D printing. This idea, funded through an MBIE Phase 2 ‘Smart Ideas’ grant, has wide applications, including for chromatographic purification of proteins, enzyme catalysis, chemical catalysis, filtration, reactors and even heat exchangers and batteries. In the context of BIC, the major focus has been on protein chromatography and the group has been successful in creating printed agarose monoliths that can separate proteins in the presence of yeast cells. This new approach will eliminate at least two process steps from recombinant and therapeutic protein production processes, reducing cost while increasing yield and bioactivity. The 3D printing work has so far involved around nine doctoral students, 19 other research students, as well as 14 staff across five departments.
Dr Simone Dimartino (former BIC PI now at the University of Edinburgh) recently received the Csaba Horváth Young Scientist award for his presentation on aspects of this work at the 44th International Symposium on High Performance Liquid Phase Separations and Related Techniques, HPLC 2016, San Francisco. The project covers experimental and computational fluid dynamics, materials science, surface chemistry, laser physics, separations and reaction engineering and it has now attracted collaboration from several high-profile international companies, universities and research institutions.
Biomolecular interactions of macromolecules are inherently difficult to characterise and measure, particularly in complex solutions. Emerging devices harnessing the unique physics of multi-stream microfluidic flow provide a promising platform technology for new analytical tools to study these interactions. Grant Pearce, Volker Nock and Ren Dobson are setting out to design devices that characterise interactions in real time and in complex solutions. The team has recently been joined by PhD student Serena Watkin, who is co-funded by a BIC-Callaghan Innovation scholarship. Serena is using ultracentrifugation, SAXS and microfluidic flow devices to characterise biomolecule interactions.
The role of the cytoskeleton in invasive hyphal growth of fungi and oomycetes is the focus of a successful collaboration between BIC PI Volker Nock and Associate Professor Ashley Garrill. Their aim is to develop a microfluidic platform for the study of protrusive forces in hyphal invasion based on flexible micropillars. Fungi and oomycetes grow as pathogenic species on both plants and animals. They can have significant effects on humans, either directly through infections or indirectly through loss of crops and other species. Using newly developed microfluidic devices the team was recently able to show the first on-chip measurement of protrusive force exerted by single hyphal tips of pathogenic microorganisms. The team hopes that better understanding of the molecular generation of protrusive force may impact on ways to address the many diseases and infections that occur due to invasive fungal and oomycete growth.