Vitor Pinheiro

Senior Lecturer

Based at UCL

Personal Website

Synthetic Biology through Directed Evolution

Storage, replication and translation of genetic information are crucial processes in biology and succinctly summarised by the Central Dogma and the genetic code.
Using directed evolution as a tool for Synthetic Biology, our goal is to re-engineer these processes – changing the topology of the Central Dogma with synthetic nucleic acids and developing alternative genetic codes with non-canonical chemical functionalities.
By reconstructing biological function from individual parts, we hope to gain insights at all levels of information handling processes in biology: at the level of individual components, the biological systems being engineered and the more general principles in biology. Our Synthetic Biology approach is complementary to the traditional detailed and systematic characterisation of the natural systems and will allow us to investigate key biological questions:

  •  What are the boundary conditions for storage of chemical information?
  •  How robust are biological informational processes?
  •  Are there inherent functional constraints that limited biology to its use of natural nucleic acids and the canonical amino acid set?

Our research interests also include developing new tools for molecular biology, protein engineering and new methods for directed evolution.

Selected publications

Synthetic genetic polymers capable of heredity and evolution
Pinheiro, V.B., Taylor, A.I., Cozens, C., Abramov, M., Renders, M., Zhang, S., Chaput, J., Wengel, J., Peak-Chew, S-Y., McLaughlin, S.H., Herdewijn, P., Holliger, P.
Science (2012) 336 (6079):341-344
Selection platforms for directed evolution in Synthetic Biology
Tizei, P.A., Csibra, E., Torres, L., Pinheiro, V.B.
Biochemical Society Transactions (2016) 44(4):1165-1175
Catalysts from synthetic genetic polymers
Taylor, A.I., Pinheiro, V.B., Smola, M.J., Morgunov, A.S., Peak-Chew, S., Cozens, C., Weeks, K.M., Herdewijn, P., Holliger, P.
Nature (2014) 518:427-430