Artificial cells produce their own energy and synthesize themselves.


It has long been believed that constructing living artificial cells will help understand the transition from non-living to living matter that took place on early Earth and, help develop biology-based devices which can sense light and drive biochemical reactions. Many intracellular systems have been reconstructed by assembling molecules, however, the mechanism to synthesize its own constituents by self-sufficient energy has not yet been developed.  Now, a study from researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology constructs artificial cells using minimal components which are able to supply energy to drive gene expression and synthesize themselves. The team state their work may shed light on how primordial cells used sunlight as an energy source early in life’s history.  The opensource study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Previous studies show artificial sub‐cellular systems been built by simply mixing cell components together, however, real living cells construct and organize their own components. It has also been a long time goal of research to build artificial cells that can also synthesize their own constituents using their own energy available in the cell environment.  The current study constructs a simple artificial cells which can produce chemical energy that helps synthesize parts of the cells themselves.

The current study develops artificial cells wrapped in lipid membranes with small membrane structures encapsulated within them, in this way, the cell membrane is the most important aspect of forming a cell.  The lipid membranes contained two proteins ATP synthase, which makes the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the natural cell, and bacteriorhodopsin, a light-harvesting protein which helps ATP synthase operate.

Results show these proteins work in tandem, using light energy to create an energy difference inside the cell, and then to use that energy difference to construct more molecules and more protein.  Data findings show that the photosynthesis process was a success with the artificial cells mimicking real cells by making messenger RNA (mRNA) from DNA, and then making protein from mRNA.  The lab stress the key feature is the cells’ ability to produce its own energy and synthesising, potentially leading to the creation of independent artificial cells which can be sustained on their own.  They conclude that the newly formed bacteriorhodopsin and ATP synthase parts then spontaneously integrate into the artificial photosynthetic organelles and further enhance ATP photosynthesis activity.

The team surmise they have developed artificial cells that produce chemical energy, which is then used to make more parts of the cells themselves.  For the future, the researchers state artificial cells could be made to be energetically independent so as to develop self-sustaining cells, like their naturally-occuring counterparts.

Source: Tokyo Institute of Technology

 

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