Simply put, SynDerma is the pursuit of Synthetic Dermatology. For our iGEM project, the 2020 Paris Bettencourt team set its sights on the (ironically) invisible ecosystem coating our skin, the skin microbiome. Inspired by ecological networks that exist in bacterial communities, we thought of a future where genetically engineered skin microflora could directly secrete biotherapeutics into the skin and modulate each other's acitivity.
The human microbiome can be defined as the complement of micro-organisms that reside in or on the human body in a symbiotic relationship. These microorganisms span all three domains of life, which typically interact with the human host in a commensal or mutualistic manner. Our project focuses on the human skin microbiome.
Our work surrounds to aims: to observe the skin microbiome under unique conditions and to develop tools to engineer it.
Our first project, Quaranskin, aimed to study the microbiome of people residing in Europe in this unprecedented context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rationale behind this is the notion that the sanitary measure set up in almost all European countries since February 2020, could have an impact on the composition and diversity of our skin microbiomes. Since we know that the skin microbiome has a direct impact on health, we can think that these changes in our lifestyle could indirectly affect our skin health through augmenting the skin microbiome.
Apart from observing the microbiome we wanted to be able to engineer as a step toward the synthetic probiotic biotherapeutics we dreamt of. We focused our research on a commensal bacterium of the skin microbiome: Staphylococcus epidermidis. This bacteria presents an opportunity to develop a novel chassis for synthetic biology of the skin microbiome. This is the reason why we wanted to develop a MoClo toolkit for S. epidermidis, EpiFlex. As a proof of concept of EpiFlex we assembled a plasmid containing mCherry transcriptional unit using our developed toolkit, to then use it to transform S. epidermidis to express the fluorescent reporter, which we termed project EpiGlow. In parallel, a third project, EpiGrow, was set up to optimize the transformation and culture protocols for S. epidermidis. Alongside, we want to compare the 3D and 2D culture growth of this bacteria by developing a 2D model of skin and a device to measure 2D growth and better approximate the organism's native conditions with the purview of an appropriate in vitro model for a synthetic probiotic.
Cumulitavely we hope to have made contributions toward establishing S. epidermidis as a convenient chassis for synthetic biology such that it could be used to fight against skin microbiome dysbioses which are associated with skin disorders such as atopic dermatitis.