Patterns are fascinating, from the veins of a leaf to the stripes of a zebra. Patterns are found everywhere in nature, but how they are formed is not entirely clear. We, the KU Leuven iGEM 2015 team, decided to work on the fundamental mechanisms behind pattern formation. The way cells of multicellular organisms interact to generate a specific pattern has triggered our curiosity. Our mission is to create astonishing biological patterns with engineered bacteria on a petri dish to unravel the secrets of nature. We will design a ‘proof of principle’ which can form the basis for fundamental research.
We plan to engineer two different cell types of bacteria to form a desired pattern on a petri dish. We aim to control the cell behaviour and the motility by stimuli originating from engineered bacteria. Our design focuses on creating a construct that stimulates bacterial cells of the same type to adhere to each other and to repel the other type. After fine-tuning the plasmid constructions, the exact details will appear in the wet lab section. We will extract results from the wet lab for generating precise models to theoretically represent the pattern-forming bacteria. We will use techniques like Western blotting, chemiluminescence, fluorescence and biological assays coupled to image analysis to quantify certain gene products. Different levels of production of certain proteins will affect the shape and size of patterns that the bacteria form. Therefore we will control promoter induction and experiment runtime to study the resulting effects. Additionally, this will give the modeling team more data to fit their models to different conditions. Concurrently, simulations from the cyber lab will aid in tuning the experimental conditions that lead to the desirable patterns. In conclusion, the interaction between wet lab and cyber lab will be crucial to the successful design of our experiments.
First of all, our project has the goal to unravel the secrets of nature according to pattern formation. A better understanding of the pattern formation process in combination with the appropriate and detailed predictive mathematical models will also be advantageous in many different fields. Tumor formation and tissue regeneration are a few among the many examples where the medical world could benefit from a deeper knowledge of pattern formation. The generation of patterns in a controlled way will also allow the production of novel biomaterials. After forming a pattern, the cells can be engineered to precipitate or deposit networked biominerals, opening up exciting new avenues for the production of microstructured biocomposite materials. In the long term, the ability to construct predesigned patterns of bacteria could lead to applications in miniature electrical conductors and/or electrical circuits as well.
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