(re)Designing materials with biology
Filipe Natalio, Department of Plants and Environmental Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Host: Cecília Roque, UCIBIO NOVA
ZOOM link: https://ucibio.pt/l/GuestSeminars
Nature has evolved over billions of years, resulting in a large diversity of well-adapted complex organisms with efficient solutions to complex challenges. Inspired by organisms, humans have been exploring organisms to understand and deconvolute underlying mechanisms to derive organic solutions for material and/or structure design that can, in some cases and up to a certain extent, surpass those used as sources of inspiration. There are two major avenues to that end. The first is the widely explored field of bioinspired design or biomimetics, which involves extracting selected principles from Nature. The second is the emerging field of living materials which leverages the metabolic and/or genetic regulatory networks with or without metabolic/genetic manipulation.
In this presentation, I will discuss our research on metal oxide nanoparticle enzyme-mimicking catalysis, highlighting its application in boat paints preventing biofouling as an example of the biomimetic approach. Furthermore, I will present our preliminary efforts to harness cellulose metabolism by combining in vitro cotton cultures and synthetic glucose derivatives, aiming to biologically fabricate cotton fibers with tailored properties, thus showcasing its potential, challenges and impact.
Filipe Natalio was born in Portugal. He studied Chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon – scientific variant. He did his master’s thesis at the University of Amsterdam on enzymology and his Ph.D. at the Medical School at the University of Mainz (Germany), for which he was awarded a Marie-Curie Fellowship. His Ph.D. topics included silica biomineralization in marine sponges, tissue engineering, and target drug delivery of cancer cells using nanoparticles. Then, he proceeded to a short post-doctoral position at the Department of Inorganic Chemistry of the University of Mainz, where he focused his research on nanoparticle-based enzyme mimetic catalysis and its applications, protein self-assembly, and in vitro mineralization of calcium carbonate.
In 2013, he became a Junior group leader at the University of Halle-Saale (Germany) in the Department of Inorganic Chemistry, where he and his team started to explore the combination of synthetic chemistry and plant biology, namely, in vitro cultures of cotton and its cellulose biosynthetic pathways, to biologically fabricate cotton fibers with tailored properties. He and his team also developed bioinspired algorithms for designing lightweight structures, taking inspiration from radiolarians and hierarchical bone structures.
In 2017, Filipe joined the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS, Israel) as principal investigator. He and his team started working on Scientific Archaeology to develop artificial intelligence algorithms for inferring fire-related past hominin behavior. At the same time, he and his team continued to pursue research on designing cellulose-based materials with tailored properties using the same combined approach but across different scales – from enzymes to plants.
He has published over 70 peer-reviewed articles in diverse fields in scientific journals such as for example, PNAS, Nature, and Science. He holds 3 international patents, one of which together with BASF. He was recently awarded an ERC consolidator grant.