Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr Elise Cachat

Lecturer in Synthetic Biology

Research Interests

We engineer mammalian cells to self-organize into specific structures and patterns, a technology that will both teach us about natural patterning and will also lay the foundations for advanced tissue engineering.

My research in a nutshell

Synthetic patterning & morphology

We built a pattern generator where cells were engineered with different adhesion molecules. These cells self-organize in 2-D and 3-D based on phase separation and differential adhesion, and the resulting cell arrangements resemble animal coat patterns (Cachat et al. 2016, Sci. Rep. 6: 20664). By inducing specific morphogenetic circuits from a library of synthetic genetic modules we built previously (Cachat et al. 2014, J. Biol. Eng. 8: 26), we can add complexity to this pattern. For example, we can target one of the population to selectively undergo apoptosis, or target boundary cells to undergo specific differentiation. Although differential adhesion is a mechanism naturally occurring in developing tissues, it has not been identified as a pattern-generating mechanism in animals and as such constitutes a truly synthetic road to patterning.

Another genetic machine we are building uses an architecture developed in theoretical terms in the 1950s by Alan Turing: the reaction-diffusion mechanism. Depending on system parameters, engineered cells should produce spots, stripes, swirls or travelling waves of activation. As opposed to the above patterning mechanism, the reaction-diffusion mechanism has been shown to drive patterning in developing embryos, but has not yet been reproduced synthetically.

Together, these approaches will create simple systems to test existing theories of morphogenesis and patterning derived from the study of animal development but difficult to test in complex embryos. These approaches will also create synthetic platforms for use in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and for the development of clinically-useful structures outside the normal developmental repertoire (Davies & Cachat 2016, Biochem Soc. Trans. 44, 696-701).


Course organiser and Lecturer for 'Tools for Synthetic Biology' and 'Applications of Synthetic Biology' MSc courses.

Lecturer in The Microbial World 2.

Research activities & awards

  1. 2nd Synthetic Biology Congress

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

  2. Mechanobiology of somitogenesis workshop

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

  3. SULSA synthetic biology meeting

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

View all (7) »

ID: 283165