Programmable Microparticle Scaffolds for Enhanced Diagnostic Devices

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Virginia Tech


Microrobotics is an emerging discipline with the potential to radically affect fields ranging from medicine to environmental stewardship. Already, there have been remarkable breakthroughs; small scale robots have been made that can selectively traverse the gastrointestinal tract, and others have been built that can fly in a manner inspired from bees. However, there are still significant challenges in microrobotics, and it remains difficult to engineer reliable power sources, actuators, and sensors to create robust, modular designs at the microscale. The miniaturization of the robotic system makes design and efficiency of these components particularly difficult. However, biological systems demonstrate the key features of robotics " sensing, actuation, processing" and are remarkably complex at the microscale. As such, many researchers have turned to biology for inspiration and living robotic components. In our laboratory we have engineered an Escherichia coli (E. coli) capable of producing surface display proteins to either anchor the cells, bind to functionalized nanoparticles, or capture small molecules from the environment, all complex actuation features. Additionally, we have created a processing unit that can create signals based on biological components, yet is non-living. This thesis focuses on the characterization of the surface display E. Coli system and the creation of programmable microparticle scaffolds that may be controlled by biological circuitry. In particular, by leveraging the strong interaction between biotin and streptavidin, I have created programmable microparticle scaffolds capable of attenuating the intensity of a fluorescent response in response to perturbations in the local environmental conditions. We believe this is an excellent enabling technology to facilitate the creation of complex behaviors at the microscale and can be used as a processing unit for simple decision making on microrobots. We foresee this technology impacting disciplines from medical microrobotics to environmental sensing and remediation.



Synthetic biology, cell-free systems, programmable microparticles