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New artificial cells can engulf live bacteria via endocytosis.

Antibiotic consumption is on the rise, causing increased resistance in bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to resist the effects of medication used to successfully treat it in the past. Without urgent action, the global community is heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.

Artificial cells detect & eat bacteria

Now, a study from researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania develops artificial cells with the ability to detect and devour bacteria. The team states their artificial phagocytic cells represent an alternative to antibiotics, the mainstream treatment against bacterial infections, and could potentially treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study is published in the journal Nano Letters.

Previous studies show due to the global rise in the antibiotic resistance of microbes the development of artificial cells capable of endocytosis of living bacteria is of particular interest. Endocytosis is where the material to be internalized is engulfed by the cell membrane. The cell membrane then buds off inside the cell to form a vesicle containing the ingested material, in this case, bacteria.

Nevertheless, synthetic cells have failed to sufficiently mimic natural membrane properties to perform this advanced function. The current study develops an artificial cell with a biomimetic membrane, capable of engulfing live bacteria via endocytosis.

The current study develops a new class of artificial cell membranes where lipids or polymers are replaced by molecules called Janus dendrimers. Janus dendrimers are molecules comprising both water-loving and water-hating parts driving the spontaneous assembly of artificial cells mimicking key properties of natural cell membranes.

Results show the bacteria successfully binds to the membrane of the synthetic cell. Data findings show this process causes the membrane to wrap and engulf the microbe inside of a compartment resembling the digestive sack of macrophages.

How artificial phagocytosis works

The group states full engulfment of the bacteria occurred in less than a minute after contact, driven by the adhesion of the microbe to the dendrimer’s highly flexible and stable membrane. This was enabled by ultraweak interactions, comparable to those observed in nature. They go on to add once isolated the bacteria was killed inside the synthetic cell keeping all the toxic debris away from the surrounding tissues.

The team surmises they have successfully integrated a biomimetic mechanism into an artificial cell membrane which enables spontaneous endocytosis. For the future, the researchers state they are currently integrating natural receptors into the synthetic cells. It is hoped these receptors will be able to differentiate between different strains of bacteria.

Source: Nanowerk News 

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