Research Group Heinen
Laura Heinen’s research group aims at developing life-like and energy-autonomous soft matter systems in a bottom-up approach. The key philosophy of our research is that sustained and autonomous life-like material functions (e.g. adaptation, homeostasis, self-sustenance, evolution, dynamic self-assembly, signaling, …) rely on constant internal fluxes of energy and matter that are coordinated by an informational subsystem in the material. Thus – just as in living cells – we engineer soft material systems with minimal metabolic pathways. We understand active material systems as (selectively) open non-equilibrium systems that also require co-design of the environment. We approach this by the development of systems materials from a holistic perspective.
At the heart of our group we combine knowledge of soft materials science, systems chemistry, and synthetic biology to reach our goals in a cross-disciplinary way. Both biological and synthetic parts are interconnected and interdependent to generate life-like functions. We build on our expertise in compartmentalized and hierarchically structured materials, reconstituted enzymatic reaction networks and advanced biological membrane transport mechanisms. This allows us to convert, store and harvest energy gradients in soft matter systems. The construction of artificial cells plays an integral role along our route towards metabolically active systems materials. Our research is fueled by a continuous discourse with current research into the origins of life, non-equilibrium chemistry and an active embedment in the synthetic cell community.