In mammalian development, the formation of most tissues is achieved by a relatively small repertoire of basic morphogenetic events (e.g. cell adhesion, locomotion, apoptosis, etc.), permutated in various sequences to form different tissues. Together with cell differentiation, these mechanisms allow populations of cells to organize themselves into defined geometries and structures, as simple embryos develop into complex organisms. The control of tissue morphogenesis by populations of engineered cells is a potentially very powerful but neglected aspect of synthetic biology.
We have assembled a modular library of synthetic morphogenetic driver genes to control (separately) mammalian cell adhesion, locomotion, fusion, proliferation and elective cell death. Here we describe this library and demonstrate its use in the T-REx-293 human cell line to induce each of these desired morphological behaviours on command.
Building on from the simple test systems described here, we want to extend engineered control of morphogenetic cell behaviour to more complex 3D structures that can inform embryologists and may, in the future, be used in surgery and regenerative medicine, making synthetic morphology a powerful tool for developmental biology and tissue engineering.