Synthetic Biology and Biomolecular Systems

This research area focuses on understanding the basic mechanisms of biomolecular systems for applications in biomolecular physics, biological chemistry, and molecular medicine. To achieve these goals 3D transmission electron microscopy, single molecule methods such as optical trapping and fluorescence microscopy, bio-analytics and proteomics, and nano-bio-technologies are used.

This page presents selected activities in the following research fields pursued by MSB-PIs within this research area: Synthetic Biology, Biomolecular Engineering | Molecular Biology, Proteomics.

Synthetic Biology, Biomolecular Engineering

Molecular Devices and Machines

PI Prof. Hendrik Dietz
Biomolecular Nanotechnology lab
List of publications from the laboratory

Inspired by the rich functionalities of natural macromolecular assemblies such as enzymes, molecular motors, and viruses, we investigate how to build increasingly complex molecular structures. Our goal is to build molecular devices and machines that can execute user-defined tasks. Molecular self-assembly with DNA is an attractive route toward achieving this goal. DNA origami in particular enables building nanodevices that can already be employed for making new discoveries in biomolecular physics and protein science.

More Information:
TED Talk (YouTube video): Molecular machines of the future
Article in TUM's popular-science magazine Faszination Forschung:
Jumping from Postdoc to Professor

MSB News:
25.10.2019 | Developing a nanoswitch for antibodies – Research team mentored by MSB-PI Hendrik Dietz receives m4 Award
13.07.2020 | Fighting viral infections with engulfing nano-shells – European research consortium VIROFIGHT to advance novel treatment against viruses

TUM Press releases
06.12.2017 | DNA origami surpasses important thresholds – Building virus-sized structures and saving costs through mass production
24.03.2017 | Designer proteins fold DNA – Biophysicists construct complex hybrid structures using DNA and proteins
24.02.2017 | In the molecular bench vise – Scientists measure molecular forces between nucleosomes
06.09.2016 | Measuring forces in the DNA molecule – First direct measurements of base-pair bonding strength
26.03.2015 | Designer's toolkit for dynamic DNA nanomachines - Arm-waving nanorobot signals new flexibility in DNA origami
10.12.2014 | Fourth Leibniz prizewinner in the TUM Physics Department - Biophysicist Hendrik Dietz (36) awarded top German research award
14.12.2012 | Reality check for DNA nanotechnology – Lowering barriers to DNA-based nanomanufacturing
21.11.2012 | Researchers build synthetic membrane channels out of DNA – Nanotech structures mimic nature's way of tunneling through cell walls

Figure caption:
The tweezers are made of two rigid DNA beams connected by a third strand that works as a hinge (Image: Chris Hohmann, NIM / Dietz Lab, TUM)

Creation of synthetic biological systems

Prof Friedrich Simmel
Physics of Synthetic Biological Systems lab
List of publications from the laboratory  

The remarkable properties of biological systems are the result of complex interactions between multiple components, and thus emerge at the systems level. Biological systems are thus able to respond to their environment, compute, move, reconfigure and evolve. We aim at the construction of synthetic molecular and cellular systems, which generate and display similar behaviors. Our work involves the engineering and study of synthetic gene circuits, the creation of artificial cellular systems and the development of cell-scale robots.

More information:

TUM press releases:
17.01.2019 |
Models of lifeArtificially produced cells communicate with each other
19.01.2018 |
Piecework at the nano assembly line – Fast computer control for molecular machines
09.08.2016 | DNA dominos on a chip – Carriers of genetic information packed together on a biochip like in nature

Figure caption:
Gene expression in cell-scale microcompartments (Image: Friedrich Simmel / TUM)

Mammalian Cell Engineering

PI Gil Westmeyer  
Molecular Imaging Lab 

List of publications from the lab


It is of growing interest to decipher the patterns of cell-circuit signaling for understanding the (patho)physiology of living organisms. There is also a progression in biomedicine from applying small molecules and proteins to deploying genetically engineered cells as therapeutic agents in patients. Monitoring and controlling genetically defined cells in living organisms is thus of substantial importance. Our research program, therefore, focuses on bioengineering of next-generation molecular sensors and actuators for functional imaging and remote spatiotemporal control of cellular processes with whole‑organ(ism) coverage. We are, in particular, concentrated on gaining genetic control over key logistic processes in mammalian cells such as compartmentalization. In this way, we can install new metabolic pathways and generate self-assembling biomaterials with new, e.g., biomagnetic properties. These genetically controlled biophysical interfaces allow us to establish two-way communication with specific cells that we will bring to bear on future imaging-controlled tissue engineering and cell therapies. 

Molecular Biology, Proteomics

Integrative Structural Biology

PI Michael Sattler  
Chair for Biomolecular NMR-Spectroscopy 

List of publications 


Our research elucidates molecular mechanisms of the functions of biological macromolecules using integrative structural biology. Combining solution NMR, small angle X-ray and neutron scatterning (SAXS, SANS), crystallography and fluorescence methods (FRET, in collaboration) we study dynamic conformations of proteins and RNAs that are essential for their functional activity, in cellular signaling and disease pathways. For these studies we employ protein and RNA engineering tools, for example, to incorporate isotopes and spin labels by segmental ligation. NMR fragment-screening and structure-based approaches are used to develop small molecule inhibitors of drug targets. Researchers at BNMRZ develop new methods and probes for medical MRI imaging (Steffen Glaser), novel NMR methods to study amyloid fibrils linked to neurodegeneration and Diabetes (Bernd Reif), nanodiscs to study dynamics of membrane proteins and associated complexes (Franz Hagn), and structural mechanisms of Hepatitis B Virus (Anne Schütz). 

More information:
Bavarian NMR Center (BNMRZ)

Press release: New Insights into the Maturation of miRNAs (To read more press releases follow the links listed there)
Article in TUM's science magazine: How proteins work
BNMRZ Corporate video (in German)

Proteomics and Bioanalytics

PI Bernhard Küster 
Chair of Proteomics and Bioanalytics 
List of publications


This research focuses on proteomics, chemical biology and biomarker discovery and a range of questions relating to how proteins interact with each other and with active pharmaceutical ingredients, which molecular mechanisms play a role in cancer and how these can be used for individual approaches to clinical treatment. It uses chemical and biochemical methods as well as spectroscopic and bioinformatic high throughput technologies. 

More Information:
Press release: Versatile cancer drugs (To read more press releases follow the links listed there)