Martí-Franquès COFUND Fellowship Programme


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Engineering and Architecture

Supervisor name and surname:

Ioanis Katakis

Supervisor email:

Supervisor short biography

Co-supervisor name and surname:

Ciara O`Sullivan

Co-supervisor email:

Co-supervisor institution:


Co-supervisor short biography

PhD programme:

Nanoscience, Materials and Chemical Engineering

Title of the research project:

(Bio)Electrochemical Tools for Integration of Biological Systems and Electronic Components (BIONIC)

Description of the research project:

The idea of combining man‐made and natural systems has fascinated humans for centuries. However, despite the explosion of life science advances, the integration of electronic and biological systems remains underdeveloped. Our thesis is that applying principles of Synthetic Biology we can develop model platforms whereby biological cells are controlled by electronic signals. We propose to create synthetic cellular receptors selectively activated by linear peptide ligands. These ligands will be generated by electrochemical means form the cyclic precursor peptide. In order to endow the system with the ability to activate a selected ligand:receptor pair in the presence of other polypeptides, we propose to construct peptide‐selective bio‐electrodes. Such electrodes essentially represent artificial “enzymes”. These electrodes will be modified with engineered proteins that selectively assemble responding to specific (electro)chemical signals where the protein domains ensure selectivity for the ligand, while the applied potential drives the catalysis. This proposed approach enables the construction of a potentially unlimited number of orthogonal electrode/peptide/receptor systems that allow multichannel information transfer between computing devices and biological cells.

The demonstration of the overall concept requires three clearly defined steps: optimisation of electrochemical communication with PQQ-dependent wild-type (GDH) and genetically engineered (CM-GDH) glucose dehydrogenase (EC, demonstration of selective release of signaling peptide, and construction of an electrode-array platform where cells, ligand activating electrodes and sensory electrodes will be closely immobilized. This project focuses on the first step, i.e. the optimisation of the electrochemical communication between an arrayable electrode material (preference is given to Au-electrodes) and GDH and CM-GDH. The research consortium that carries out this project has already shown the feasibility of the two important building blocks: the genetic engineering of calmodulin and Ca++-activated GDH (CM-GDH) with remarkable orthogonality[1], and the high electron transfer rate of GDH and CM-GDH to graphene-modified carbon fibre electrodes[2]. The project will attempt the above embodiment to a manufacturable electrode format. If results are forthocoming the rest of the steps will be realised. Finally, depending on the progress of the project, similar direct electrochemical communiction concepts will be applied to establish communication with living cells, especially eucaryotic cells.

Two approaches will be attempted to improve the electrochemical communication of GDH and CM-GDH to gold electrodes in a manner that leads to manufacturable designs: in the first approach a surrogate graphene surface will be created on gold electrodes either through electrochemical or chemical means. In the latter, graphene sheets will be formed in a monolayer fashion through bulk self-assembly. In the former various architectures of electrochemical “wires” will be synthesised and characterised and then self-assembled on the electrode surfaces. Redox-polymer and self-doping conducting polymers are two of the possible “wire” solutions that will be studied. If time permits other conducting molecular wires will be tried. In both cases, electrodes will be characterised with surface and electrochemical methods and then modified with the enzymes and evaluated with respect to specificity to Ca++ modulation and electron transfer rate.

[1]. Guo, Z., et al.; Engineering PQQ-glucose dehydrogenase into an allosteric electrochemical Ca2+ sensor, Chem. Commun., 52, 485-88 (2016).
[2]. Koushanpour, A., et al.; Ca2+-Switchable Glucose Dehydrogenase Associated with Electrochemical/Electronic Interfaces: Applications to Signal-Controlled Power Production and Biomolecular Release, J. Phys. Chem. B, 121, 11465−11471 (2017).
Ethics: This project involves ethical aspects.

Workplace location: Campus Sescelades, Tarragona

Gross anual salary:

27103.20 €


Full time

Working hours:

37.5 hours a week

Expected start date:

15 March 2021

European union This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 945413