The Ellington lab is primarily interested in developing tools for the delivery of nucleic acids into and out of cells, and acellular systems for the evolution of synthetic genetic circuits. The delivery of nucleic acids such as siRNAs into cells can be fomented through the use of nucleic acid binding species (aptamers) that bind to the cell surface. They are also attempting to directly select for the delivery and pharmacokinetic properties of nucleic acids in cells and animal models. These efforts are being complemented by attempts to export nucleic acids from cells, via diffusion, cellular transport mechanisms (microvesicles), or viral envelopes. Ultimately, the import and export of nucleic acids should lead to cell-to-cell communication via nucleic acids. Acellular systems for the evolution of synthetic genetic circuits are predicated on water-in-oil emulsion technologies. Proteins, nucleic acids, and regulatory signals can be rapidly evolved in the context of these in vitro compartments. Of particular interest is the evolution of polymerases that can amplify their own genes or synthetic operons. Many of the efforts in protein evolution are being supported by computational design methods. The individual biopolymer 'pieces' are being combined into more complex machines and circuits that can themselves evolve; for example, there is work towards a self-evolving ribosome and an acellular version of quorum sensing. While the two major thrusts may seem disconnected, it is anticipated that they will eventually merge in the acellular evolution of complex synthetic genetic circuits that can then be introduced into and communicate between cells.