Synthetic Biology in Inflammation Research

Staal Jens

Staal Jens

Research Teamleader

Novel tools to study and control inflammation in health and disease

Our group focus on regulation of inflammation. We approach these problem areas through creative transfer of information and tools between different biological entities (proteins, organisms).

Specialized metabolites in health and disease

We focus on a diverse set of compounds known as phytohormones (Salicylic acid, Abscisic acid, Auxins, Ethylene and Cytokinins; Fig 1). These molecules are attractive because they are produced in all kingdoms of life. Hence, we can use tools from both plants and microbes to study these molecules in mammals.

Engineering of custom reporter systems and other synbio tools and components

A great passion of ours is technology development. In the phytohormone projects, we have developed sensitive reporter module frameworks that can be adapted to different protein changes. We also create useful components for downstream use cases. We have, for example, broken the world record twice in designing an extremely small cloning vector backbone (Fig. 2).

Using evolution and protein engineering to study the regulation of inflammation

To understand regulation of proteins involved in inflammatory signal transduction, we also utilize structural and evolutionary data to compare regulatory mechanisms in related signaling proteins. In these comparisons, we can make artificial chimeric proteins to study specific regulatory mechanisms in detail (Fig. 3). We also analyze natural variants in signaling proteins to discover new disease-causing mutations through reverse genetics.

Areas of Expertise

  • Regulation of inflammatory gene expression
  • Cloning, design and engineering of reporter systems
  • Transgenic mouse models
  • Nutrition – microbiota – metabolism - inflammation
  • Metabolic engineering

Technology Transfer Potential

  • Identification of diseases that benefit from secondary metabolite supplementation
  • Potential novel markers for prognosis or disease differentiation
  • Potential novel reporter technologies for cheap and high-throughput diagnosis
  • Novel sources and administration routes for secondary metabolite supplementation
  • Knowledge about regulation of immune homeostasis at an entirely different complexity level (beyond nucleotides and proteins)

Selected publications

  • Kim, S. W. et al. Phytohormones: Multifunctional nutraceuticals against metabolic syndrome and comorbid diseases. Biochem Pharmacol 175, 113866 (2020). Visit ➚
  • Lievens, L., et al. Abscisic Acid as Pathogen Effector and Immune Regulator. Front Plant Sci 8, 587 (2017). Visit ➚
  • Kim, S. W. et al. Engineering a highly sensitive biosensor for abscisic acid in mammalian cells. FEBS Lett 596, 2576-2590 (2022). Visit ➚
  • Staal J, Alci K, De Schamphelaire W, Vanhoucke M, Beyaert R. Engineering a minimal cloning vector from a pUC18 plasmid backbone with an extended multiple cloning site. Biotechniques 66, 254–259 (2019). Visit ➚
  • Staal, J. et al. Defining the combinatorial space of PKC::CARD-CC signal transduction nodes. FEBS Journal 288,1630–1647 (2021). Visit ➚