Tissue engineered multicellular structures for aquatic detoxification

Pollak NM1,2,3, Glass NR2, Suzuki KGH2, Cooper-White JJ2,4 and Macdonald J1,5,6

  1. Genecology Research Centre, School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia.
  2. Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
  3. CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform.
  4. UQ Centre for Stem Cell Ageing and Regenerative Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
  5. Inflammation and Healing Research Cluster, School of Science and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia.
  6. Division of Experimental Therapeutics, Department of Medicine, Columbia University, New York, USA.

The development of new systems to target environmental pollution is critically important for improved bioremediation, and synthetic biology holds potential to revolutionize such approaches. Our group is exploring the expansion of synthetic biology into the field of tissue engineering, to produce novel multicellular structures, which can move and sense their environment in an organism-like fashion. These multicellular structures, also called "pseudo-organisms", are constructed from biological and synthetic hybrid components. We are engineering them to detoxify toxins in water by ligand-induced activation of an enzyme scavenger, and to trigger warnings. Our approach may revolutionize aquatic detoxification systems in industry by offering a mobile scavenging system that is highly-specific, yet without harmful side products. Importantly, these pseudo-organisms cannot reproduce, representing a unique solution to ethical and social impact deliberations compared to use of GMOs, and creating new possibilities in water management. Benefits ultimately include novel technologies for water purification for industrial applications, such as reducing biochemically active pharmaceuticals in waste water and harmful pesticide-run off from agricultural activities. In addition, our research is seeking to study cell-to-cell communication for signal amplification between sender and receiver cells and aims to engineer quorum sensing to initiate directional movement of multicellular structures.