Droplet-based microfluidics to mimic the compartmentation of metabolism in multicellular systems
In this project, we aim to develop an artificial cell system using microfluidic droplets that allow the in vitro expression of proteins from plants in a compartmentalized cell-like environment. The betalain biosynthetic pathway is a simple model that involves two to three enzymes to synthesize betalains from L-tyrosine, the final products of which absorb light in the visible spectrum and so are easy to detect and quantify. The cell-free protein expression components together with betalain biosynthetic genes will be enclosed in microdroplets to test if an artificial cell system for plant protein expression can be achieved. Furthermore, the potential to establish an artificial multicellular system with droplet-to-droplet communication will be explored to mimic metabolic pathways that rely on the communication between cells. These systems would open more opportunities for synthetic biology in plants and allow hypotheses and models on cell communications to be tested in vitro.