Case study: Michael Booth
Fellowship: Royal Society University Research Fellowship
Title of the research: Development of light-activated synthetic cells for controllable, targeted modulation of mammalian cells
About the research
This is a 5-year research fellowship (with a possible extension of an extra 3 years), which has allowed me to establish an independent research group in Oxford Chemistry. The Department has allowed me to apply for studentships from the Doctoral Training Centres and internal/external funding as any other academic would be able to.
I studied for an MChem degree at the University of Southampton, which included research projects in the groups of Professor Martin Grossel, Professor Ali Tavassoli, and Professor George Attard. As part of my undergraduate degree I also undertook a placement at the Université de Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Stephen Michnick. I carried out my PhD at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, developing sequencing techniques for modified cytosine bases. I then worked in the group of Professor Hagan Bayley at the University of Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher and Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford. At Oxford, I developed light-activated DNA technology to control cell-free protein expression within synthetic cells. I am currently a Royal Society University Research Fellow based in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford.
DNA and RNA form the basis for many therapeutic and experimental technologies, including gene editing and silencing, several aspects of nanotechnology, aptamers and their applications, and cell-free protein expression. It would be advantageous to control the function of these technologies, as this would greatly expand their application and reduce toxic or off-target effects. The main focus of our research is the generation of externally-controllable nucleic acids (EC-NAs) under the control of various stimuli, including temperature, magnetism, enzymes, chemical signals, and multiple wavelengths of light. These EC-NAs will be optimized to function with molecular machines, drug delivery, sensing, and siRNA and CRISPR technologies. In the future, this universal chemical method for controlling DNA and RNA structure and function may form the basis of controllable therapeutics and new technologies for basic research.