Scientists create artificial ‘living’ cells by harvesting bacteria for parts

Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK have taken a major step forward in the field of synthetic biology by designing a system that performs many of the main functions of a living cell, including generating energy and expressing genes.

Their artificial cell even transformed from a spherical shape to a more normal amoeba-like shape within the first 48 hours of “life,” indicating that the primitive cytoskeletal filaments were functioning (or, as the researchers describe, were “structurally dynamic at large scales”). extended period of time.”).

Building something close to what we might think of as living isn’t a walk in the park, not least thanks to the fact that the simplest living things rely on countless biochemical processes involving mind-bendingly complex mechanisms to grow and reproduce.

Scientists previously focused on getting the artificial cells to perform a single function, such as gene expression, enzyme stimulation, or ribozyme activity.

If scientists discover the secret to building and programming artificial cells capable of closely simulating life, it could create a wealth of possibilities in everything from manufacturing to medicine.

While some engineering efforts focus on redesigning the diagrams themselves, others are looking at ways to reduce existing cells into scraps that can then be reconstructed into something relatively new.

To perform this latest feat in bioengineering, the researchers used two bacterial colonies – Escherichia coli And the Pseudomonas aeruginosa – for parts.

These two bacteria were mixed with tiny empty droplets in a viscous liquid. One group was caught within the droplets and the other was trapped on the surface of the droplets.

Then the scientists opened the bacteria’s membranes by washing the colonies in lysozyme (an enzyme) and melittin (a polypeptide that comes from honeybee venom).

The bacteria spilled their contents, which were captured by the droplets to create membrane-coated primary cells.

The scientists then showed that the cells were capable of complex manipulations, such as producing the energy storage molecule ATP through glycolysis, and transcribing and translating genes.

First author, chemist Can Xu, says: “Our approach to synthesizing living materials provides an opportunity for bottom-up construction of symbiotic living/synthetic cell structures.

“For example, using engineered bacteria, it should be possible to manufacture complex units for development in the diagnostic and therapeutic areas of synthetic biology as well as in biomanufacturing and biotechnology in general.”

In the future, this type of synthetic cell technology could be used to improve ethanol production for biofuels and food processing.

Combined with knowledge based on advanced models from basic biology, we can mix and match some structures while completely redesigning others to engineer entirely new systems.

Artificial cells can be programmed to photosynthesize like purple bacteria, or generate energy from chemicals just like sulfate-reducing bacteria.

“We expect the methodology to be responsive to high levels of programmability,” the researchers say.

This paper was published in temper nature.

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