Putting Biofilms to work
Biofilms are commonly known as the slime-producing bacterial communities sitting on stones in streams, dirty pipes and drains, or dental plaque. However, Wyss Core Faculty member Neel Joshi is putting to work the very properties that make biofilms effective nuisances or threats in our daily lives. In this episode of Disruptive, Joshi and postdoctoral fellow Anna Duraj-Thatte discuss the development of a novel protein engineering system called BIND, Biofilm-Integrated Nanofiber Display, which uses biofilms to help clean up polluted rivers, manufacture pharmaceutical products, and fabricate new textiles
Neel Joshi is developing new biomaterials constructed from engineered proteins and peptides. The overarching goal of his research is to extract innovative design principles from materials and systems that are the product of natural evolution and recapitulate them in synthetic systems where their physical properties can be precisely tuned to suit biomedical and biotechnological needs. His efforts focus on exploiting two aspects of protein behaviour to create smarter materials and environmentally responsive systems — programmable self-assembly and conformational dynamics (reversible changes in a protein’s shape that control its function).
Current projects employ a range of approaches, including synthetic chemistry, protein engineering, directed evolution, and molecular biology. Working with the Synthetic Biology Platform, Neel has developed a novel protein switch platform that is able to convert the presence of certain biomolecules into a readily detectable signal. This work is being further developed for use in diagnostic applications for the tracking of disease biomarkers in bodily fluids and food samples.
Another project associated with the Programmable Nanomaterials Platform is focused on engineering the molecular composition of bacterial biofilms to convert them from pathogenic substances into useful materials with non-natural function, such as filtration devices and catalytic membranes. Because the material is synthesized and assembled by the bacteria, it is scalable and created from completely renewable building blocks. Neel also has interests in mechanically responsive systems for drug delivery that take advantage of force-induced protein unfolding to release drugs on-demand in living systems.
Neel is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He has authored 11 publications and holds two patents.