Jim HaseloffView all speakers
Jim Haseloff is a plant biologist working at the University of Cambridge. His scientific interests are focused on the engineering of plant morphogenesis, using microscopy, molecular genetic, computational and synthetic biology techniques. (see www.haseloff-lab.org) He and his group have developed new approaches to RNA engineering, quantitative imaging and gene expression in plants, and promote the potential of Synthetic Biology as a tool to engineer new feedstocks for sustainable use. (see www.synbio.org.uk)
Synthetic Biology has great potential as a tool for the engineering of multicellular organisms. (1) The greatest diversity of cell types and biochemical specialisation is found in multicellular systems, (2) the molecular basis of cell fate determination is increasingly well understood, and (3) it is feasible to consider creating new tissues or organs with specialized biosynthetic or storage functions by remodelling the distribution of existing cell types. Of all multicellular systems, plants are the obvious first target for this type of approach. Plants possess indeterminate and modular body plans, have a wide spectrum of biosynthetic activities, can be genetically manipulated, and are widely used in crop systems for production of biomass, food, polymers, drugs and fuels.
Current GM crops generally possess new traits conferred by single genes, and expression results in the production of a new metabolic or regulatory activity within the context of normal development. However, cultivated plant varieties often have enlarged flowers, fruit organs or seed, and are morphologically very different from their wild-type ancestors. The next generation of transgenic crops will contain small gene networks that confer self-organizing properties, with the ability to reshape patterns of plant metabolism and growth, and the prospect of producing neomorphic structures suited to bio production.
We have developed a battery of computational, imaging and genetic tools to allow clear visualisation of individual cells inside living plant tissues and have the means to reprogram them. These techniques are well suited to study of simple experimental systems such as the lower plant Marchantia polymorpha and surrogate microbial populations. These types of simple systems are becoming increasingly important to explore the next generation of genetic circuits with self-organising properties.