Research using bacteria brings scientists closer to creating artificial cells with realistic functions

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Scientists have harnessed the potential of bacteria to help build advanced artificial cells that mimic real-life functions.

The research, led by the University of Bristol and published today in temper natureIt is making significant progress in publishing artificial cellsknown as protocells, to more accurately represent the complex structures, structure and function of living cells.

Creating real functionality in protocells is a major global challenge that spans multiple domains, from the bottom up. Synthetic Biology Bioengineering is even the origin of life research. Previous attempts to model primary cells using microcapsules failed, so the team of researchers turned to it bacteria To construct complex synthetic cells using the process of aggregating living materials.

Professor Stephen Mann from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, the Max Planck Bristol Center for Minimal Biology along with colleagues Dr Kahn Shaw, Nicholas Martin (currently Purdue University) and Mei Li at the Bristol ProtoLife Research Center have demonstrated an approach to building highly complex primary cells using viscous micro-droplets filled with with live bacteria as a microstructural site.

In the first step, the team exposed the empty droplets to two types of bacteria. One group was spontaneously captured inside the droplets while the other group was trapped on the surface of the droplets.

Subsequently, both types of bacteria were destroyed so that the released cellular components remain trapped inside or on the surface of the droplets to produce membrane-encapsulated primary bactericidal cells containing thousands of biological moleculesand parts and parts of machinery.

The researchers discovered that the primary cells were able to produce energy-rich molecules (ATP) via glycolysis and synthesize RNA and proteins via gene expression in vitro, indicating that the hereditary bacterial components remained active in the synthetic cells.

After testing the ability of this technique, the team used a series of chemical steps to structurally and morphologically reshape bacterial protocells. The released bacterial DNA was condensed into a nucleolar-like structure, and the interior of the droplet was permeated with a cytoskeleton-like network of protein filaments and membrane-enclosed water vacuoles.

As a step towards building an artificial/living cell entity, the researchers implanted live bacteria into primary cells to generate self-sustaining ATP production and long-term activation of glycolysis, gene expression and cytoskeleton assembly. Curiously, the primary structures have adopted an amoeba-like external morphology due to bacterial metabolism in situ and growth to produce a cellular biogenic system with integrated life-like properties.

Corresponding author Professor Stephen Mann says, “Achieving a high degree of regulatory and functional complexity in artificial cells is challenging especially under conditions close to homeostasis. We hope that our current bacterial approach will help increase the complexity of current protocell models, facilitating the integration of a myriad of cells.” biological components and enables the development of cell activation systems.”

First author Dr. Kan Zhou, a research associate at the University of Bristol, added, “The aggregation of living materials approach offers an opportunity for bottom-up construction of symbiotic living/synthetic cell assemblies. For example, using engineered bacteria it should be possible to fabricate complex units for development in the diagnostic and therapeutic fields. for synthetic biology as well as in biomanufacturing and biotechnology in general.”

more information:
Stephen Mann, Synthesis of Living Materials for Bacterial Primary Cells, temper nature (2022). doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-05223-w.

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