Seizing cell cycle of a synthetic cell

The perspective of a synthetic cell makes it possible to rewrite the rules governing life. This project focuses on the cell cycle, aiming at designing novel ways to control it.


Life as we know it today is the result of millennia of continuous evolution and selection ultimately leading to the magnificent ensemble of species populating our planet. In his bestseller book “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins attributes the origin of the evolution to the insurgence of genetic elements replication. Life evolved from simple RNA molecules catalysing their own replication into organisms able to replicate their genetic material and divide to generate offspring. The ensemble of the mechanisms involved in these processes is known as cell cycle. Processes involved in the cell cycle were honed throughout evolution and species belonging to the same domain of life often share highly similarity in these mechanisms.

The Project

With the advent of synthetic biology, however, a new possibility arises: the creation of a synthetic cell. Bottom-up synthetic biology aims at creating a de novo minimal protocell able to reproduce and evolve starting entirely from non-living components. The creation of such a cell is sure to generate invaluable insights into the origin of life, but it could revolutionise industry as well. Several biotechnological fields, such as smart drug engineering and biorefineries, would benefit immensely from such a minimal and controllable organism.


Among others processes, chromosomal replication is indispensable to ensure propagation of the synthetic cell. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the natural regulation that bacteria already pose over genetic material replication could indeed be accurately reproduced. However the creation of a synthetic cell is an incredible opportunity to modify this process into a more streamlined one.

This project therefore aims at creating a platform to easily study such a basilar process in the biology of all living organism and to then use it to test novel ways of controlling it. 


Would you like to work on this project? Please contact Lorenzo Olivi for a thesis position.