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Department of Plant Sciences

 Artificial symmetry-breaking for morphogenetic engineering of bacterial colonies

Fernan Federici and Tim Rudge have been long term members of the Plant Sciences Department in Cambridge. Both have done time in the Haseloff lab as PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, and are now faculty members at Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. For the last two years Fernan has been back in Cambridge part-time as an OpenPlant Fellow. Their laboratories continue to explore the use of microbes as simple systems for engineering morphogenesis. In collaboration with the Haseloff lab in Cambridge and the lab of Prof. Drew Endy (Stanford) , they have used plasmid segregation as a symmetry breaking mechanism during bacterial colony growth. This was then coupled to control of gene expression and metabolism in new cellular domains, after triggering RNA polymerase expression or CRISPR/Cas9 mediated regulation. The system allows the direct observation of processes from single cell through the growth of large populations, and produces extraordinary images of mixed colonies with reprogrammed patterns and growth. A sampler of reprogrammed colonies is shown below, and links to a larger collection of Fernan’s microscopy work can be found at his web site. Tim continues to develop CellModeller for simulation of bacterial physics and growth at large scale, and he has used this software tool to explore the emergent properties of these dynamic populations. Fernan, Tim and colleagues have published a description of this system, which provides a simple test bed for engineering artificial types of morphogenesis.

Isaac N. Nuñez, Tamara F. Matute, Ilenne Del Valle, Anton Kan, Atri Choksi, Drew Endy, Jim Haseloff, Timothy Rudge, and Fernan Federici. Artificial symmetry-breaking for morphogenetic engineering bacterial colonies. ACS Synthetic Biology. 30 Oct 2016.  DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.6b00149