Research

The research in our group is primarily centered around Synthetic Biology at the interface of biology and engineering. The topic has significant growing application in diverse areas including industrial biotechnology, healthcare and environment. Our interests include both fundamental and applied synthetic biology. The following describes the three synergistic research themes which we are currently focusing on, i.e. the foundational technology, healthcare and industrial biotechnology applications of synthetic biology

1. Foundational technology for gene circuit design
In this area, foundational synthetic gene circuits are designed and constructed to program living cells with designer functions including novel modular and orthogonal genetic logic gates, sensors, biological processors and advanced computing and information processing circuits (towards a programmable and scalable cell-based biocomputer). The results will greatly expand the currently limited toolbox in synthetic biology. New biological circuit design principles are being developed by exploiting design principles in other engineering systems such as modularity, orthogonality, systematic characterization and modelling to increase the predictability and scalability of gene circuit design and assembly.

           

2. Synthetic cellular biosensors and biomanufacturing 
In this area, the engineered gene networks are employed for applications including intelligent multi-input cell-based/cell-free biosensors for environmental monitoring and diagnostics, and as enabling tools to customize biologics and biomaterial manufacturing. New synthetic sensors are being developed to sense specific environmental toxins or disease related signals (pathogens, nucleic acids and cancers) with high selectivity and sensitivity. Genetic logic and analog circuits are applied to link the synthetic sensors and specialised actuators such as reporters, electron conduits and functional pathways to generate various designer output responses. Further, dynamic sensor-regulators are being constructed in microbial cell factories to allow balancing metabolism and adaptively tuning product synthesis rate.

     

3. Synthetic biology enabled new diagnostics and therapeutics 
Here we engineer bacteriophages to selectively target gut pathogens such as Shigella flexneri that causes widespread environmental enteropathy in human gut in developing countries. On the second thread, we are developing new low-cost, simple cell-fee biosensors for providing point-of-care diagnostics of target toxins and pathogens in various specimens in resource limited situations. Further, synthetic biology is used as a tool to build synthetic regulatory circuits for perturbing or mimicking their natural counterparts to aid disclosing design principles and properties of cell signalling and stress response systems, contributing to bacterial infection treatment.