Researchers develop synthetic prototissue capable of synchronized beating.

The term protocell has been used loosely to refer a self-organized, endogenously ordered, spherical collection of phospholipids proposed as a stepping-stone to the origin of life.  A subsequent goal is to use the artificial protocellular units for the bottom-up assembly of prototissues, however, this is still a major challenge for researchers.  Now, a study from researchers at the University of Bristol develops the first chemically produced artificial prototissue capable of synchronized beating.  The team state that their findings, which could have major health applications in the future, could see chemically programmed synthetic tissue being used to support failing living tissues and to cure specific diseases.  The study is published in the journal Nature Materials.

Previous studies show that the protocell is an extremely simple version of a cell which is capable of growth, replication, and evolution. A protocell differs from a true cell in that the evolution of genomically encoded functions has not yet occurred.  The development of a basic synthetic prototissue, using a protocell as the first step, which can mimic the ability of living cells to produce functions such as beating and chemical detoxification remains a major synthetic biological challenge.  The current study produces the first chemically programmed synthetic protocells to communicate and interact with each other to form prototissues which are capable of synchronised beating.

The current study constructs two types of artificial cells each having a protein-polymer membrane, having complementary surface anchoring groups. The lab then assembled a mixture of the sticky artificial cells into chemically linked clusters to produce self-supporting artificial tissue spheroids. Results show that by using a polymer that could expand or contract as the temperature was changed, it was possible to make the artificial tissues to perform beat-like oscillations.

Data findings show that the functionality of the artificial prototissues increases by capturing enzymes within their constituent artificial protocells. Results show that the amplitude of the beating, and control of chemical signals in and out of the artificial prototissues is modulated by using various combinations of enzymes.  The team state their methodology opens up a route from the synthetic construction of individual protocells to the co-assembly and spatial integration of multi-protocellular structures.

The team surmise they have successfully chemically programmed assembly of synthetic protocells into thermoresponsive prototissues capable of synchronised beating.  Our approach to the rational design and fabrication of prototissues bridges an important gap in bottom-up synthetic biology and should also contribute to the development of new bioinspired materials that work at the interface between living tissues and their synthetic counterparts.

Source: University of Bristol


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