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New Junior Research Group starting at B CUBE

James Sáenz starts his new research group for bottom-up synthetic biology at B CUBE

Starting from the first of October, the ZIK B CUBE welcomes a new junior research group for Bottom-up Synthetic Biology led by James Sáenz. With financial support from the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) for 5 years Dr. Sáenz gets the opportunity to build up his team, which will study the design principles of a minimal synthetic membrane.

The broad aim of this research group is to elucidate biological innovations from the simplest organisms to understand the minimal set of parts and principles required to assemble a robust and responsive synthetic membrane from the bottom up. To achieve this goal, the researchers will characterize the lipidomic basis for membrane robustness, elucidate design principles for a minimal responsive membrane, and develop a new class of membrane sensors based on RNA/DNA-membrane interactions. Thus they employ a combination of lipidomics, membrane biophysics, lipid biochemistry, and microbial genetics. “With respect to synthetic membranes, our focus on the role of lipid structural diversity and lipidomic remodeling is unique and will shed light on completely new ways to integrate membranes in synthetic biotechnologies and open up new avenues for basic research into the fundamental role of membranes in supporting life.” says Sáenz about his research plans.

James Sáenz was born in the United States and did his BSc in Earth Sciences at the Boston University. In 2010, he received a PhD in Chemical Oceanography from the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. Since 2010, he worked as postdoctoral fellow at the MIT (Cambridge, USA), at the Harvard University (Cambridge, USA) and at the MPI-CBG (Dresden).

For more information on the Sáenz group follow this link.

 picture: Ancient bacterial lipids known as hopanoids are biophysically similar to cholesterol in their ability to promote liquid-liquid phase separation in membranes allowing them to achieve lateral organization (image: Giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) comprised of cholesterol or diplopterol with sphingomyelin (SM) and a phospholipid (DOPC)). This observation alters our understanding of membrane evolution, suggesting that the emergence of ordered biochemically active liquid membranes, and thus the ability to subcompartmentalize membranes, preceded the rise of oxygen and the evolution of sterols. The ancient hopanoid biosynthesis pathway is significantly simpler than the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway providing advantages in the construction of minimal synthetic membrane systems. 

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