NCCR - Molecular Systems Engineering

  1. Projects

Catalytic compartments: Complex reactions in confined spaces at nano- and micro-scale

In order to understand and mimic reactions taking place inside cells, we develop catalytic compartments by encapsulating active compounds (enzymes, proteins, mimics) inside synthetic compartments and inserting membrane proteins in their walls. The active compounds freely move and act inside the cavity of the compartment, which protects them from destructive environmental conditions, while the membrane proteins serve as “gates” allowing the free passage of substrates and products through. Catalytic compartments can be designed to act in tandem and support cascade reactions, which produce a desired compound or mimic sections of metabolic pathways. Such catalytic compartments act as nano- or micro-reaction spaces for a large variety of applications ranging from catalysis or storage of oxygen up to controlled production of drugs, or detoxification of harmful oxygen species involved in oxidative stress.

Contact: Dr. Ioana Craciun, Andrea Belluati, Claire Meyer, Luisa Zartner

Collaboration: Prof. Abhay Pandit, Galway University, Irland
Prof. Wolfgang Meier, University of Basel

Self-organization of nano-assemblies in controlled architectures

Our aim is to hierarchically self-organize synthetic assemblies with nanometer size, such as polymersomes, into clusters with controlled properties and topology by exploiting molecular recognition interactions (e.g. DNA hybridization, or biotin-streptavidin pairs) to interconnect them. Polymersome clusters mimic the connection of natural organelles inside cells and interact differently with each cell line depending on the molecular- and external factors affecting their self-organization. Such polymersome clusters loaded with enzymes will support complex reactions as a fundamental step for development of artificial systems mimicking natural cells or tissue. This platform of self-organized nano-assemblies has a high potential for biological applications, such as protein therapy or active templates for regenerative medicine.

Contact: Dr. Ioana Craciun, Claire Meyer, Andrea Belluati,

Collaboration: Prof. Catherine Housecroft, University of Basel
Prof. Jörg Huwyler, University of Basel
Prof. Laura Sagle , Cincinnati University, USA

Active surfaces

We are developing a platform of active surfaces with specific functionalities and high efficacy by immobilization on solid support of synthetic templates (membranes and assemblies) containing biomolecules. The aim is to obtain active surfaces with functionality resulting from the intrinsic activity of the biomolecules, while the stability and robustness of the bio-hybrid material is provided by the synthetic template. Such active surfaces are intended for a large variety of applications: controlled production of desired compounds (e.g. antibiotics), fighting against bacterial growth on implants, sensing fine changes in the environment (e.g. pH changes associated with early change of food quality or the presence of specific molecules) or degrading traces of harmful compounds (e.g. for high purity water).

Contact: Dr. Saziye Yorulmaz Avsar, Dr. Cora-Ann Schönenberger, Serena Rigo, Viktoria Mikhalevich,

Collaboration: Prof. Wolfgang Meier, University of Basel
Prof. Catherine Housecroft, University of Basel
Prof. J. Xu, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing
Prof. C. Draghici, Transilvania University, Brasov, RO

Bio-hybrid compartments with improved properties

We use a bio-inspired approach to obtain synthetic compartments with new properties by decorating them with wild type or chemically modified biomolecules that preserve their intrinsic function in the synthetic environment. Impermeable, synthetic compartments gain specific permeability when biopores are inserted in their membrane, or triggered permeability when bio-valves are associated. Attachment of specific molecules at the external interface of compartments improves their up-take by cells. Such bio-hybrid compartments with improved properties provide new solutions with enhanced control and precision at the nanometer scale for technological (e.g. water purification) and biological applications (e.g. biosensing, signaling, controlled release of drugs).

Contact: Dr. Cora-Ann Schönenberger, Andrea Belluati, Luisa Zartner, Christina Zelmer,

Collaboration: Prof. Rod Lim, University of Basel
Prof. Mark Sansom, Oxford University, UK
Prof. Dirk Schneider, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany
Prof. Gebhard Schertler, Paul Scherrer Institute
Prof. Richard Kammerer, Paul Scherrer Institute

Artificial organelles and cells

Our aim is to design and develop the closest-to-nature artificial organelles and cells as novel systems to provide multifunctionality and complexity in biological applications. We advance in two complementary directions: i) we create artificial organelles mimicing the natural ones (e.g. peroxisome) by encapsulating/inserting biomolecules in artificial compartments to render them multifunctional and ii) we generate artificial cells by inducing formation of giant plasma membrane vesicles from donor cells that simultaneously transfer various bio- and synthetic entities inside. We develop artificial organelles and complex artificial cells that are non-toxic, and preserve their functionality in vitro and in vivo when injected in animal models. These systems open new avenues to advance patient oriented diagnostics and therapy.

Contact: Dr. Ioana Craciun, Andrea Belluati, Luisa Zartner,

Collaboration: Prof. Wolfgang Meier, University of Basel
Prof. Jörg Huwyler, University of Basel
Prof. Viola Vogel, ETHZ

Bio-hybrid assemblies for biological applications

We develop a platform of bio-hybrid assemblies by entrapment/encapsulation of active compounds inside synthetic assemblies made of polymers, peptides and combination of thereof. The aim is to develop new solutions for diagnostics and therapeutics with improved efficacy, controlled functionality and local precision. Various assemblies, such as nanoparticles, polymersomes, or complex micelles serve as hosts for a variety of compounds ranging from drugs, contrast agents, photosensitizers up to proteins or DNA. Active compounds are either kept inside the assembly where they preserve the functionality (e.g. production of single oxygen for photodynamic therapy, improvement of contrast for MRI) or are released in specific conditions (e.g. pH or reductive changes in the environment).

Contact: Dr. Cora-Ann Schönenberger, Dr. Ioana Craciun, Dr. Linling Shen, Shabnam Tarvirdipour, Myrto Kyropoulou,

Collaboration: Prof. Wolfgang Meier, University of Basel
Prof. Yakoov Benenson, ETHZ
Prof. Catherine Housecroft, University of Basel
Dr. Lev Weiner, Weismann Institute, Israel
Prof. Abhay Pandit, Galway University, Irland
Prof. Martin Malmsten, Upsalla University, Sweden