Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Kerstin Göpfrich
ZMBH Research Group Leader

Im Neuenheimer Feld 329
69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Lab Homepage

Welcome to the Göpfrich lab!



Biophysical Engineering of Life



What is life and could it be different? Is it possible to build a living cell from scratch? While questions like these have fascinated mankind for centuries, it is exciting that science begins to develop tools to approach them. Bottom-up synthetic biology conventionally isolates and subsequently recombine biomolecules from cells. Instead of copying life as we know it, our group tries to engineer cells featuring completely new ways of assembly, information propagation and replication. Thereby, it will be possible to probe boundary conditions of life and, from a practical point of view, to build biomedical interfaces between natural and synthetic cells.

Towards this goal, we are combining biophysical tools, including DNA origami, microfluidics, lipid vesicles and 3D printing with experimental methods, like confocal and high-speed microscopy, atomic force microscopy, ryo-electron microscopy and computational approaches.


Currently, we work on the following projects:

  • DNA nanotechnology and DNA origami for synthetic cells
  • Symmetry breaking in synthetic cells
  • Mechanics of membrane-based compartments
  • 3D printing for synthetic cells (integrated into the excellence cluster 3D Matter Made to Order)
  • Information encoding and processing


Sounds interesting? We always welcome applications from motivated, talented and friendly new group members at all levels with a background in physics, molecular biotechnology, chemical engineering or similar – see Join Us.





Selected publications


Zhan, P., Jahnke, K., Liu, N. & Göpfrich, K. (2022) Functional DNA-based cytoskeletons for synthetic cells. Nature Chemistry 14, 958–963, DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-00945-w

Jahnke, K., Huth, V., Walther, T., Schönit, A., Mersdorf, U., Liu, N. & Göpfrich, K. (2022) Bottom-up assembly of synthetic cells with a DNA cytoskeleton, ACS Nano 16, 7233–7241, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.1c10703

Abele, T., Messer, T., Jahnke, K., Hippler, M., Wegener, M. & Göpfrich, K. (2021) 3D direct laser printing inside synthetic cells, Advanced Materials, DOI: 10.1002/adma.202106709

Jahnke, K., Ritzmann, N., Fichtler, J., Nitschke, A., Dreher, Y., Abele, T., Hofhaus, G., Platzman, I., Schröder, R., Müller, D. J., Spatz, J. P. & Göpfrich, K. (2021) Proton gradients from light-harvesting E. coli control DNA assemblies for synthetic cells. Nature Communications 12, 3967, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24103-x

Dreher, Y., Jahnke, K., Bobkova, E., Spatz, J. P. & Göpfrich, K. (2020) Controlled division and regrowth of phase-separated giant unilamellar vesicles. Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed., 60, 10661, DOI: 10.1002/anie.202014174

We reconfigure plasmonic DNA origami in microfluidic droplets
How can you build up structures on the inside of synthetic cells? With two-photon 3D laser printing
We found that actin-containing droplet show directional motion due to the Marangoni effect

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