Biological Soft Matter
In close collaboration with the Durham Soft Matter Centre, BSI researchers (1) create new molecules with biological function; (2) study the assembly of such molecules into higher order structures; and (3) model a variety of biological systems to gain new understanding of structure, dynamics and function.
Image opposite: SEM of a scaffold material used in 3D cell culture and tissue engineering.
Soft matter principles underlie the structure and function of many essential biological structures, from proteins to virus particles and cells.Professor Neil Cameron
The Biological Soft Matter area of the BSI involves researchers from the Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and the School of Biological Science. Collectively, the group has expertise in all aspects of soft matter science from theory and simulation through to fundamental physical and biochemical investigation together with novel synthetic chemistry. These skills are used to tackle challenging topics at the interface between materials science and biology, in a truly interdisciplinary manner. The group is interested both in fundamental studies, such as: what is the role of dynamics in protein function? Can we create a synthetic vesicle that displays behaviour characteristic of a cell? and the production of new technologies, such as self-assembled peptide nanoparticles for drug delivery applications.
Areas of Research
Researchers within the BSI are using multiscale approaches to investigate the role of dynamics in protein function. This work is contributed to by theoretical physicists, computational chemists, structural biologists, and biochemists. Current projects include: New Multiscale Tools for Protein Physics: Thermal Protein Dynamics in Signalling and Allostery. This project investigates how dynamics underpins protein allostery and how this knowledge can be used to engineer proteins for the biotechnology industry.
For more details please visit the New Multiscale Tools for Protein Physics: Thermal Protein Dynamics in Signalling and Allostery project page.
Contact: Dr Martin Cann
Cytoskeletal structure and function
The cytoskeleton is a trans-cellular network of filaments required for both mechanosensory and signal transduction functions by physically connecting the outer perimeter of the cell to its deepest recesses. In multicellular organisms, the cytoskeleton additionally supports the functional diversity of all the various cell types and ensures the integration of each individual cell into the collective framework of its tissue. So from microbe to man, the cytoskeleton aids subcellular compartmentalisation, but also supports functional diversity as well as being essential for both sensing and responding to the changing environment of the cell.
Contact: Professor Roy Quinlan
Research in the BSI covers both fundamental aspects of membrane science and the development of new materials with membrane-like properties. Fundamental research includes:
- Surfactant partitioning into membranes using state-of-the-art surface spectroscopy techniques.
- Key aspects of the interactions of proteins and peptides with membranes are studied using surface chemistry and spectroscopy methodologies.
- Characterisation of ion channel activity using electrochemical approaches.
- Study of the mechanistic aspects of membrane-active enzymes.
- Exploration of the structure, function and biosynthesis of the nuclear envelope.
- Study of the non-equilibrium phenomena of biologically-active soft matter.
New materials that have emerged as a result of research in the institute include
- Amphiphilic polymers that assemble into "polymersomes", which exhibit many of the properties of cell membranes.
- Novel hybrid hydrogel/liposome materials with potential applications in tissue implantation
Contact: Dr John Sanderson
The process of peptide self-assembly is being used by BSI researchers to create a variety of nanostructures. For example:
Synthetic polypeptides that self-assemble into nanoparticles and nanocapsules are prepared as drug delivery vehicles to treat diseases of the eye (EU PANOPTES project).
In the field of synthetic biology, self-assembled structures capable of 'walking' along a DNA track have been designed and are currently under production.
Contact: Professor Neil Cameron
Technologies and Methodologies
Biophysical Sciences Institute
+44 (0) 191 334 2351