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Synthetic Biology underpins advances in the bioeconomy

Biological systems - including the simplest cells - exhibit a broad range of functions to thrive in their environment. Research in the Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology is focused on the possibility of engineering the underlying biochemical processes to solve many of the challenges facing society, from healthcare to sustainable energy. In particular, we model, analyse, design and build biological and biochemical systems in living cells and/or in cell extracts, both exploring and enhancing the engineering potential of biology. 

As part of our research we develop novel methods to accelerate the celebrated Design-Build-Test-Learn synthetic biology cycle. As such research in the Centre for Synthetic Biology highly multi- and interdisciplinary covering computational modelling and machine learning approaches; automated platform development and genetic circuit engineering ; multi-cellular and multi-organismal interactions, including gene drive and genome engineering; metabolic engineering; in vitro/cell-free synthetic biology; engineered phages and directed evolution; and biomimetics, biomaterials and biological engineering.



BibTex format

author = {Cabello-Garcia, J and Bae, W and Stan, G-BV and Ouldridge, TE},
doi = {10.1021/acsnano.0c10068},
journal = {ACS Nano},
pages = {3272--3283},
title = {Handhold-mediated strand displacement: a nucleic acid based mechanism for generating far-from-equilibrium assemblies through templated reactions.},
url = {},
volume = {15},
year = {2021}

RIS format (EndNote, RefMan)

AB - The use of templates is a well-established method for the production of sequence-controlled assemblies, particularly long polymers. Templating is canonically envisioned as akin to a self-assembly process, wherein sequence-specific recognition interactions between a template and a pool of monomers favor the assembly of a particular polymer sequence at equilibrium. However, during the biogenesis of sequence-controlled polymers, template recognition interactions are transient; RNA and proteins detach spontaneously from their templates to perform their biological functions and allow template reuse. Breaking template recognition interactions puts the product sequence distribution far from equilibrium, since specific product formation can no longer rely on an equilibrium dominated by selective copy-template bonds. The rewards of engineering artificial polymer systems capable of spontaneously exhibiting nonequilibrium templating are large, but fields like DNA nanotechnology lack the requisite tools; the specificity and drive of conventional DNA reactions rely on product stability at equilibrium, sequestering any recognition interaction in products. The proposed alternative is handhold-mediated strand displacement (HMSD), a DNA-based reaction mechanism suited to producing out-of-equilibrium products. HMSD decouples the drive and specificity of the reaction by introducing a transient recognition interaction, the handhold. We measure the kinetics of 98 different HMSD systems to prove that handholds can accelerate displacement by 4 orders of magnitude without being sequestered in the final product. We then use HMSD to template the selective assembly of any one product DNA duplex from an ensemble of equally stable alternatives, generating a far-from-equilibrium output. HMSD thus brings DNA nanotechnology closer to the complexity of out-of-equilibrium biological systems.
AU - Cabello-Garcia,J
AU - Bae,W
AU - Stan,G-BV
AU - Ouldridge,TE
DO - 10.1021/acsnano.0c10068
EP - 3283
PY - 2021///
SN - 1936-0851
SP - 3272
TI - Handhold-mediated strand displacement: a nucleic acid based mechanism for generating far-from-equilibrium assemblies through templated reactions.
T2 - ACS Nano
UR -
UR -
UR -
UR -
VL - 15
ER -