ERC funded

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 803894

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Biohybrid Microrobots inspired by Microbes

The Project

Biohybrid MicroRobots (BMRs) are conceptual microscopic robotic devices that combine synthetic and biological components and can be remote controlled to a specific destination, attach to a target and perform a bespoke biochemical operation at nanoscale precision. Within the 5-year Microrobots project, we intend to develop innovative BMRs by combining magnetic swimmers with prokaryotic S-layers.

Magnetic swimmers are microscopic devices that consist of two flexibly linked metallic beads with different magnetic properties and can be remote controlled through liquid media, simply by applying oscillating magnetic fields. S-layers are highly stable 2-dimensional protein arrays that form resilient cell wall components in archaea and bacteria and can be genetically modified and reassembled on inorganic surfaces.

We will initially investigate the structures of S-layers from bacterial and archaeal microbes by electron cryo microscopy to understand their biophysical properties in detail. Following on from this, we will introduce affinity tags into selected sites within the S-layer subunit proteins to create so-called affinity S-layers that can bind bioactive molecules. In the next step, we will attempt to assemble these affinity S-layers on the surfaces of magnetic swimmers.

This will coat MSs with unique affinity matrices, on which bioactive molecules can be conjugated at regular arrays, high density and defined distance. Through this strategy, we will generate BMRs that can be equipped with any bioactive functionality provided by nature, such as adhesive filaments, enzymes, antibodies, reporters, drug cargo or any other thinkable functional molecule.

The Biohybrid MicroRobots that we will develop will elegantly miniaturise robotics and enable us to deliver bioactivity at nanometre precision. This will provide a revolutionary platform technology that will be applicable in a plethora of fields, such as medicine, nanotechnology, environmental engineering or scientific exploration and generate a real step change in the ways in which we build new materials, engineer our environment, fight disease and explore the universe in the 21st century.

The team

Our Collaborators

Figure 1: BMRs and applications

A, BMRs are microscopic devices that combine technology with biological machinery. B, BMRs are deployed into a liquid environment and remote controlled towards a destination, where they adhere and deliver a biological function or a process with nanometer precision. C, BMRs may be employed in as in medicine, nanofabrication, agriculture, environmental engineering and scientific exploration.

Figure 2: Engineering BMRs

A, left, magnetic swimmer (MS) coated with S-layers. Right, in each S-layer subunit an affinity tag (red) has been incorporated (=affinity S-layer, ASL). Using these affinity tags, bioactive molecules can be conjugated at high density and in defined patterns. B, principle of conjugating bioactive molecules to ASLs. ASL and bioactive molecule each carry an affinity (Strep-II) tag. Both bind tightly to a tetrameric streptavidin, which in turn links both together. Left, examples of bioactive molecules. C, magnified view of ASL with conjugated adhesive filaments (dark green). D, ASL conjugated with bioactive molecules (yellow).