New artificial cell successfully minimised to target and kill specific bacteria.

An artificial cell is a bioengineered particle which mimics a naturally occuring biological cell. The hypothesis is that the synthetic biologic biomimics some of the properties of cells, such as surface characteristics, shapes, morphology, or a few specific functions.  Therefore artificial cells have a multitude of applications in many fields from medicine to environmental science. However, even the most basic cellular organism is extremely complex with synthesis of living artificial cells from inanimate components proving to be quite difficult.  Now, a study from researchers at University of California, Davis develops artificial cells which can kill bacteria. The team state that they have demonstrated that artificial cells can sense, react and interact with bacteria, as well as function as systems that both detect and kill bacteria with little dependence on their environment.  The study is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Previous studies show the construction of artificial cells focuses on building ‘minimal’ cells by reducing or simplifying the genetic network of a living cell. A minimal cell is a theoretical cell which only has the minimum number of genes needed to survive and to fulfill the desired programmed function.  The current study shows that the sensitivity of synthetic gene networks to their extracellular chemical contexts can be minimised, and their designated function fulfilled to target and kill specific bacteria.

The current study engineers artificial cells using liposomes, or bubbles with a cell-like lipid membrane, and purified cellular components including proteins, DNA and metabolites.  The artificial cells are synthetic biomolecular compartments engineered using liposomes which encapsulate the gene networks.  Results show that the artificial cells detect, interact with, and kill bacteria in simulated external environments with different chemical complexity.   Data findings show that the artificial cells mimic the essential features of live cells, are short-lived and cannot divide to reproduce themselves.

The lab explain that the cells were designed to respond to a unique chemical signature on E. coli bacteria, and that their cells were able to detect, attack and destroy the bacteria in laboratory experiments.  The group go on to add that their work enables the engineering of synthetic gene networks with minimal dependency on their extracellular chemical context and creates a new frontier in controlling robustness of synthetic biologics.

The team surmise that they have developed artificial cells with a minimised genetic network, which work in a wide variety of environments to target and kill specific bacteria.  For the future, the researchers state that antibacterial artificial cells may one day be used in patients to tackle infections resistant to other treatments.

Source: UC Davis News and Media Relations


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