Lipid engineering in cell membranes and whole organisms
Biology is organized by membranes whose lipid composition can vary tremendously across cells, tissues, organelles, and disease states. Lipids dictate the physical and chemical properties of cell membranes, yet have been traditionally difficult to manipulate and study in living systems. We harness synthetic and chemical biology approaches in a variety of systems – ranging from artificial cells to whole animal models – to control the properties and structure of lipid membranes in order to understand their functional roles in biology.
In addition to fundamental research, we are interested in harnessing knowledge of lipid and membrane biology for applications in health and technology. Many human diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, are characterized by dysregulation of lipid homeostasis in affected cell types. Membranes also serve as the primary barrier for delivering drugs and other therapeutics to intracellular targets and new approaches to specifically breach them are sorely needed. In biotechnology, membranes are the site of chemical toxicity for microbial cell factories, so engineering lipid composition is a strategy for enhancing their performance in industrial environments.