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Researchers develop synthetic prototissue capable of synchronized beating.

In evolutionary biology, protocells are thought to be a stepping-stone to the origin of life, hypothesized as the first cells to transfer genetic information via RNA before the onset of eukaryotic-based DNA replicating cells.  A subsequent goal is to use 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 states their findings could have major applications in the future, with 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 the protocell is an extremely simple version of a cell possessing the capability to grow, replicate, and evolve. A protocell differs from a true cell as the evolution of genomically encoded functions has not yet occurred.  The development of a basic synthetic prototissue based on a protocell with the ability to mimic the function of natural cells such as beating and performing 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 capable of synchronized 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 by using a polymer with the facility to expand or contract as the temperature changed, it was possible to make the artificial tissues to perform beat-like oscillations.

Data findings show the functionality of the artificial prototissues increases by capturing enzymes within their constituent artificial protocells. Results show 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 states 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 surmises they have successfully chemically programmed assembly of synthetic protocells into thermoresponsive prototissues capable of synchronized beating.  For the future, the researchers state their 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.

Source: University of Bristol

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Michelle Petersen View All

I am an award-winning science journalist and health industry veteran who has taught and worked in the field.

Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, I specialize in clinical trial innovation–-expertise I gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University, where I taught undergraduates the spectrum of biological sciences integrating physics for over four years.

I recently secured tenure as a committee member for the Smart Works Charity, which helps women find employment in the UK.

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