Dr Bruno Martins

I am a post-doctoral researcher in James Locke's group at the Sainsbury laboratory. I am interested in how cells discriminate between different environmental states, integrate dynamic outputs from different gene circuits, and make decisions. In my current research, I use a combination of theory and time-lapse microscopy experiments to understand the dynamical coupling of the cyanobacterial circadian clock to other networks, in both endogenous and synthetic systems.

Circadian clocks are a class of networks that regulate rhythmic expression in response to daily cycles of sunlight. A large fraction of all genes in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus are clearly under circadian control. Recently, I studied the coupling of the clock to a circuit that controls expression of the gene psbAI. Genes regulated by the clock typically peak once a day, either at dawn or at dusk. However, under conditions of constant low light, I observed a doubling of the frequency of expression of psbAI, i.e., its expression peaks twice a day. Using genetic and environmental perturbations, I found these dynamics can be modulated: either single-peak or two-peak expression can be generated. Using an iteration of modelling and experiments, I then determined the network design principles underlying the dynamics of frequency doubling.

In electronics, clock signals are essential elements of complex circuits, allowing different components of the circuit to be linked and synchronised. In biology, clocks likely play a similar role. Rational designing of oscillators has been a pursuit of synthetic biology since its inception, but evolution has already endowed natural systems with extremely reliable and robust oscillators in the form of circadian clocks. If we can understand how to harness clocks to generate specific (non-circadian) frequencies, and how to systematically integrate clocks with other pathways, we could gain a powerful tool to enable the construction of more complex synthetic circuits.

Before coming to Cambridge, I did a PhD in Peter Swain's lab at the University of Edinburgh. In my PhD I used mathematical modelling to gain insight into two simple, yet ubiquitous, sensing and transductions mechanisms: allosteric sensing and phosphorylation-dephosphorylation cycles. I studied the input-output dynamics of these mechanisms in terms of the fundamental constraints inherent in their design.

Dr Lukas Müller

Lukas Portrait-1-2.jpg

I’m interested in the circadian clock and its effect on physiological and agricultural performance in plants. In the OpenPlant project I am investigating the circadian clock in Marchantia polymorpha and analyze the regulation of clock behavior and outputs in this relative of early land plants. In particular, I am focusing on the primary metabolism as an excellent proxy for systemic processes and vegetative growth.

I apply fluorescent imaging tools with computational time-lapse analysis to obtain cell-specific read-outs for the whole plant in real-time. This data is intended to set the stage for both physiological engineering and systems biology approaches.

Part of my project is to engineer fluorescent proteins that are standardised and improved reporters for dynamic changes in gene expression.

Dr Eftychis Frangedakis

Eftychis did his PhD at Oxford University focusing on the evolution of developmental mechanisms in land plants. During his doctoral research he developed a strong interest and fascination for bryophytes. He then moved to the University of Tokyo to work with the least studied group of bryophytes, hornworts. After a short detour in Hong Kong he is now back to the UK working on the development of new synthetic biology tools in Marchantia.

Mr David Preston

I completed my Integrated Master’s in genetics at the University of Leeds, where I worked in Jϋrgen Denecke’s lab on synthetic receptors in the plant secretory pathway. In September 2016, I moved to the University Cambridge to start as an OpenPlant graduate student. I will do two lab rotations before completing my MPhil project.

For my first rotation, I worked in Jim Haseloff’s lab, which is developing advanced imaging tools for Marchantia polymorpha. My project involved characterising new enhancer trap lines in Marchantia. These lines will allow the discovery of regulatory elements involved in Marchantia development and aid in mapping enhancer activity onto computational models of the plant.

I spent my second rotation working in Alison Smith’s lab, attempting to import the Astaxanthin synthetic pathway into the chloroplast of the microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Astaxanthin is a valuable terpene which is used both in industry and as a health supplement. Astaxanthin has been produced in several different organisms but not yet in Chlamydomonas, which has great potential for industrial biotechnology.

My primary interests are in making synthetic biology faster and cheaper.

In future, I’d like to work on pathway optimization, rapid discovery and development of standard parts for synthetic biology and laboratory automation.