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Synthetic biology


  • Pathway engineering
  • Genetic engineering
  • Biomolecular selfassembly
  • Bioinspired materials
  • Biomimicry
  • Artificial cells
  • Liposomes
  • Antibody technology
  • Membrane science
  • Biophysics
  • Bioelectronics
  • Biocomputing engineering
  • Evolutionary biology

Bottom-up synthesis and design of molecules and cells

The Synthetic Biology area focuses on the bottom-up synthesis and design of molecules and cells with the aim of mimicking or reprogramming biological systems for a broad range of applications in, e.g. biosynthesis, metabolic engineering, and tissue engineering.    

The activities within this research area involves three overall topics: biomolecular design; bioinspired materialshybrid bio-nano technology. Read more about the activities below.

Further down you can find the group leaders involved in this research area.

Biomolecular design

A fundamental approach to synthetic biology is the rational design of biomolecular structure and function. iNANO has a strong background in biophysical characterization of biomolecular self-assembly (Otzen, Linderoth, Pedersen, V. Birkedal, Dong) and applying this knowledge in the rational design of biomolecular systems (Andersen, Dong, Gothelf, Kjems, Otzen). With the former Center for DNA nanotechnology (CDNA), iNANO has been at the forefront of developing the field of DNA nanotechnology. Recent examples are development of DNA nanostructures that can be used to organize polymers (Gothelf) and DNA nanodevices that can control enzymatic function (Andersen, Kjems). A new design method for RNA nanotechnology has been introduced (Andersen) that allows RNA scaffolds to be folded enzymatically and expressed inside cells where they may be used to reprogram cell properties. There is work to elucidate the structure of functional amyloid in bacteria which can serve as robust bacterial self-assembly (Otzen). Apart from the rational design of biomolecules, selection approaches are also being employed to develop new biomolecular function such as aptamers and antibody technology.    

Bioinspired materials

One of the fundamental approaches of synthetic biology is to draw inspiration from nature to develop novel bioinspired materials/systems with similar or enhanced properties. Self-healing hydrogel materials have been developed based on inspiration from mussels (H. Birkedal) as well as artificial enzymes that are mimics to the native counterpart but offer greater stability, scalable production, and diversity in the chemical transformation (Zelikin). Artificial cells and nanoparticle-based swimmers to mimic locomotion (Stadler) and nano-sized complexes with oleic acid cores and shells of disordered proteins58 (Pedersen, Otzen) have been developed.  There is furthermore focus on chemical and enzymatic methods to modify nucleic acids to enhance their properties for a variety of applications (Kjems, Gothelf).    

Hybrid bio-nano technology

Synthetic biology and nanotechnology can be used in conjunction to develop hybrid technologies. In the recently established Center for Cellular Patterning (CELLPAT), designed nanostructures are fabricated to display receptors in patterns that can be used to recognize cells and reprogram their behavior (Sutherland, Kjems). Nanoscale geometrical maturation of focal adhesions have been shown to control stem cell differentiation and mechanotransduction. Electrochemical biosensors for detection of DNA and RNA have been developed (Ferapontova).  The integration of biological systems with computers is a future goal of hybrid technologies: Initial steps towards bioelectronics have been taken by (i) routing conducting polymers in designed patterns on DNA nanostructure scaffolds (Gothelf), (ii) demonstrating that DNA can be used as a molecular rectifier (Ferapontova), (iii) performing biocomputing in a DNA-based system for selecting and displaying the combined result of two input variables, and (iv) implementing logic and fuzzy logic operations (V. Birkedal, Kjems).    

Group leaders within Synthetic Biology

Andersen, Ebbe Sloth


Biomolecular design, Biomolecular nanotechnology, Biomolecular robotics, Cryo-electron microscopy, Drug delivery, Biosensor development, Selection for molecular function, Metabolic engineering, Systems biology, Synthetic biology

Birkedal, Henrik


Biological materials, Bioinspired materials, Synchrotrons and neutrons, Crystallography, Synchrotron imaging
Multimodal (diffraction/scattering/fluorescence) X-ray tomography, Bone, Hydrogels, Responsive materials, Self-organization, Coacervates

Birkedal, Victoria


Biophysical chemistry, Structural dynamics and function, Genome biophysics, DNA based nanostructures and devices, Single molecule spectroscopy and fluorescence

Dong, Mingdong


Atomic Force Microscopy, Nanodevices, Size-dependent properties, Low Dimensional materials, Nanomechanics, Electronic materials, Surface Science, Functional Nanomaterals.

Gothelf, Kurt Vesterager


DNA, DNA origami, Organic Synthesis, Self-Assembly, Bioconjugation, Biosensors , Multi-functional drug design, Oligonucleotide analogue.

Howard, Ken


Biomolecular Assemblies, Protein Engineering, Cancer Immunotherapies, Drug Delivery, Nanomedicine, Surface Engineering, Polymers, RNA Interference, Inflammatory Diseases, Antibody optimisation, Nanoencapsulation.

Kjems, Jørgen


Non-Coding RNA, RNA Interference, Tissue Engineering, Drug Delivery, Bioimaging, Aptamers, Tissue Engineering, Stem cell therapy Tissue Engineering , Stem cell niches, Engineered exosomes for drug delivery and cell signaling, Designed immuno recognition, Bioconjugation of molecules and cells, Artificial tasting, Food biosensors, Encapsulation of food ingredients.

Linderoth, Trolle René


Surface Science, Scanning Tunneling Microscopy, Molecular Self-Assembly, Dynamic Surface Processes, Surface Chirality, Ultra-high vacuum surface science, Molecular self-assembly, On-surface synthesis, Metal-organic coordination networks, Bio-molecular self-assembly, Surface diffusion and conformational dynamics, Chiral recognition, Electrospray deposition.

Nielsen, Niels Christian


Coming soon

Otzen, Daniel


Protein-Fatty Acid Complexes, Membrane Protein Folding, Protein-(bio)surfactant complexes, Molecular basis of functional and pathological protein self-assembly and aggregation, Stability and dynamics of membrane proteins, Biophysics of protein-surfactant interactions, Cryophilic enzymes, Novel uses for plant proteins and small metabolites, Self-assembly of functional amyloid.

Pedersen, Jan Skov


Synchtron small-angle X-ray scattering, Block copolymer self-assembly, Block copolymer coacervate micelles, Morphological changes in complex mixtures of surfactants, Protein Aggregation, Functional and Pathological Amyloid, Protein-Fatty Acid Complexes, Protein-Surfactant/Biosurfactant Interactions, Molecular Self-Assembly, Modification and stabilisation of enzymes, Milk proteins and protein-fatty acids complexes.

Städler, Brigitte


Artificial Cells/Organelles/Enzyme, Droplet Microfluidics, Liposomes, Poly(Dopamine), Self-Propelled Swimmers/microbots, Polymer/Lipid hybrid nanoparticles, Mucopenetrating nanoparticles, Mucoadhesive polymers, Phenylketonuria, Hepatology, Formulations, Biosensors.

Sutherland, Duncan


NanoopticsPlasmonics, Optical metamaterials, Chirooptical materials, Thermal management materials, Biomaterials, Bio and chemical sensors, Protein coronas, Biointerfaces, Nanotoxicology, Cell Instructive Materials, Bacterial adhesion, Plasmons, 2D Materials, Stem Cells, Non-Fouling Surfaces, Astringency, Extra Cellular Matrix, Cell Adhesion Molecule.

Vosegaard, Thomas


Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy, Structure and Dynamics of Insoluble Proteins, Protein-Lipid Interactions, NMR Method Development, Materials characterisation, NMR rheology, Structural biology, Antimicrobial peptides, Lipids, Lipidomics.

Westberg, Michael


Protein Engineering, Computational Protein Design, Directed Evolution, Photoactive Proteins, Optogenetics, Chemogenetics, Light microscopy and spectroscopy, Chemical and Synthetic Biology, Biophysical Chemistry, Photochemistry and Photophysics

Zelikin, Alexander


Polymers, Hydrogels, Prodrugs, Antiviral Therapy, Enzyme Prodrug Therapy, Nanozymes, Artificial receptors.