Back The Synthetic Cell Programming Laboratory opens its doors to the MELIS-UPF

The Synthetic Cell Programming Laboratory opens its doors to the MELIS-UPF

Led by Javier Santos-Moreno, the new laboratory aims to fine tune molecular timers to be able to program bacteria to perform specific tasks at a certain time.


Imatge inicial

This June, Javier Santos-Moreno (Bilbao, 1990) has begun to direct his own laboratory at the UPF Department of Medicine and Life Sciences (MELIS) and to teach at the Faculty of the same name, thanks to the University’s tenured professor recruitment programme.

After graduating in Biotechnology from the University of Salamanca and completing his university master’s degree in Clinical Analysis Laboratory at Pompeu Fabra University, Javier earned a scholarship from the Basque Government to attend the Collège de France and the Institut Pasteur in Paris to do a doctoral degree, where he investigated protein secretion in bacteria.

The study opened the door for him to do his first postdoctoral stay at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), where he worked, for the first time, in synthetic biology, designing and building genetic circuits, or in his words “networks of genes that regulate each other to implement a certain logic and produce an adequate response according to the information they have received”.

Since then, the young biotechnologist has continued to work in the field of synthetic biology. In recent years, he has done so at the Translational Synthetic Biology Laboratory at the MELIS-UPF,  led by Marc Güell, where he has conducted his second postdoctoral stay – funded by the Marie Curie and Juan de la Cierva programmes –, modifying the skin microbiome to design diagnostic or therapeutic applications.


The Synthetic Cell Programming Laboratory

Javier joins the MELIS-UPF finding itself in an exceptionally good situation. His group emerges with the project “TICK-TOCK Do and Die; engineering biological timers and their applications”, funded with 2.3 million euros by a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant. With it, his group seeks to program time so that bacteria can autonomously perform unsupervised long-term tasks; that is, as if they were regulated by a sort of internal molecular timer.

Nowadays, if we want to give instructions to cells, we must do so in real time by means of chemical or physical signals. Getting them to do things in the absence of a signal, or getting it to be a signal that they received many hours ago and saved to do the task later, is complicated”, Santos-Moreno explains.


Nowadays, it is difficult to get bacteria to do things in the absence of a signal or a signal that they have received many hours ago and that they have stored to perform the task later.


The goal of our project is to be able to give the bacterium a signal to start time running and, for example, get it to perform the task we are interested in two days later. Then it could carry out other, different tasks at a precise time, or even be programmed to control its own growth at a given time”. According to the biotechnologist, this application has great potential in cases in which it is not easy to give direct signals to the cell because it is released into the environment to, say, degrade chemical spillages or increase the productivity of the plants in fields of crops.

According to Javier, today, in Europe there is a fear of releasing genetically modified cells into the environment because there is concern that they could escape our control. Being able to program time in modified cells would help us control their behaviour much more precisely and increase their safety.



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