The Complex Systems Wet Lab is the most recent addition to the Complex Systems Lab. It was born to test some of the ideas generated by the dry lab about the emergence of complexity and the potential synthetic paths towards major evolutionary transitions, including multicellularity, swarm intelligence or emergent computation. We are building new genetic constructs in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells in order to test which tools are necessary for an organism to start building a body, with specialized cell types and distribution of labor.
Bioengineering the Biosphere
The CSL has an ambitious research program (looking for funding) connected with a novel approach to climate change and its consequences (see R Solé, "Bioengineering the Biosphere?", Ecological Complexity 2015). It would involve designing synthetic organisms to re-design endangered ecosystems. This defines a new field that will require integration of ideas coming from synthetic biology, ecological and genome engineering, evolutionary theory, climate science, biogeography and invasion ecology, among others. Four different "Terraformation motifs" are being studied. Two of them involve the engineering of symbiotic interactions. The synthetic microbe and another, resident species (a plant or another microbe, for example) would share a common mutualistic interaction that would be designed in order to enhance the survival and spread of its host. In a different scheme, the synthetic species would be designed in order to survive attached (and perhaps degrading it) to a human-produced substrate, such as plastic debris. Finally, a fourth scheme would be confined to a habitat that is of no profit to humans. All these schemes could be used to redesign existing novel ecosystems and avoid catastrophes shifts.
Synthetic Organs and Organoids
Our aim is to achieve a theoretical and experimental understanding of the possible and the actual in terms of the organs design principles. Combining synthetic biology and those engineering methods we are trying to explore the landscape of organs and organoids. For that purpose, we are developing a morphospace approach where we aim to set up the boundaries that define an organ, and which kind of biological systems could be considered organs when these boundaries are relaxed. This morphospace will allow the reader to be aware of the unexplored space, and we will conjecture which may be the implications of exploring it from the evolutionary biology perspective.
Synthetic transition to multicellularity
The rise of multicellularity in the early evolution of life represents a major challenge for evolutionary biology. Guidance for finding answers has emerged from disparate fields, from phylogenetics to modelling and synthetic biology, but little is known about the potential origins of multicellular aggregates before genetic programs took full control of developmental processes. Such aggregates should involve spatial organisation of differentiated cells and the modification of flows and concentrations of metabolites within well defined boundaries. In our WetLab we develop different approaches to the study of synthetic multicellularity, from mathematical and computational models to synthetic biology implementations. By engineering multicellular systems out of single-celled organisms, we seek to understand the potential pathways leading to multicellular complexity.
Microorganisms are an essential part of our external environment and of our inner environment. The so called micro biome affects our immune response, participates as an essential part of our metabolism and even in brain development. We explore an ecological-level engineering of microbiomes, by replacing some strains (those with a negative influence in a selected disease) with engineered ones that include a synthetic metabolic function that help to counterbalance the metabolic alteration. This project includes the synthetic treatment of hyperamonemia, the design of simple memory circuits capable of storing information or even learning from past decisions.