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Researchers induce artificial metabolism in synthetic DNA.

Cellular metabolism is the sum of all chemical changes occurring in living organisms in order to maintain life, including the synthesis of new molecules, and the breakdown and removal of others. Cellular metabolism involves complex sequences of controlled biochemical reactions, better known as metabolic pathways these processes are crucial in the reproduction and growth of all organisms, helping to maintain their structures, and respond to environmental changes.  Although some biological approaches for engineering metabolite materials have been reported, the construction of such materials by mimicking metabolism from scratch has not yet been achieved.  Now, a study from researchers led by Cornell University engineers ‘lifelike or dynamic’ material capable of artificial metabolism and its accompanying traits.  The team states using what they call DASH (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) materials, they constructed a DNA material with capabilities of metabolism, in addition to self-assembly and organization, three key traits of life.  The opensource study is published in the journal Science Robotics.

Previous studies show characteristic properties of life, such as dynamic self-generation of organisms, are sustained by metabolism.  Mimicking metabolism in artificial systems may lead to the engineering of novel dynamic biomaterials with characteristic properties of life, and maybe even giving ‘birth’ to human-scale bioengineered robots in artificial wombs.  However, mimicking metabolism from the ground up has yet to be achieved.  The current study develops a brand-new, lifelike material powered by its very own artificial metabolism.

The current study develops a biomaterial using DASH which can autonomously emerge from its nanoscale building blocks and arrange itself, first into polymers and eventually mesoscale shapes. Results show the DNA molecules were multiplied hundreds of thousands of times, creating chains of repeating DNA a few millimeters in size. Data findings show injecting the reaction solution into a microfluidic device provides a liquid flow of energy and the necessary building blocks for biosynthesis and degradation.

The lab states by using different pathways through the channels and obstacles in the mixing chambers, or by tweaking the ingredients, DASH can be directed to move like a slime mold; DNA growing at one end of a structure can be made to break down, as fresh material is created at the other, making the whole effectively crawl along a surface.  They go on to add the results are bioengineered machines, complete with emergent regeneration and locomotion behaviors.

The team surmises they have engineered a bottom-up construction of a dynamic biomaterial powered by artificial metabolism, representing a combination of irreversible biosynthesis and dissipative assembly processes seen in nature.  For the future, the researchers state the system could be used to create a dynamic template for making proteins without living cells.

Source: Cornell University


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