Synthetic and biological cells work simultaneously as mini chemical factories

Researchers have fused living and non-living cells for the first time in a way that allows them to work together, paving the way for new applications.

Impression of a biological cell (brown) inside the artificial cell (green)
Impression of a biological cell (brown) inside the artificial cell (green)

Imperial scientists have fused living and non-living cells for the first time to harness the natural ability of biological cells to process chemicals while protecting them from the environment. Their new system which involves biological cells within an artificial cell could lead to applications such as cellular ‘batteries’ powered by photosynthesis, synthesis of drugs inside the body, and biological sensors that can withstand harsh conditions.

The fake cells likewise contain proteins that work working together with the natural cell to create new chemicals. In the verification of-idea test, the simulated cell frameworks delivered a fluorescent substance that enabled the analysts to affirm all was functioning of course.

To make the framework, the group utilized microfluidics: coordinating fluids through little channels. Utilizing water and oil, which don’t blend, they could make beads of a characterized measure that contained the organic cells and chemicals. They at that point connected a simulated covering to the beads to give security, making a counterfeit cell condition.

They tried these simulated cells in an answer high in copper, which is normally very harmful to natural cells. The group was as yet ready to recognize fluorescent chemicals in most of the fake cells, which means the organic cells were as yet alive and working inside. This capacity would be helpful in the human body, where the counterfeit cell packaging would shield the remote organic cells from assault by the body’s safe framework.

Lead researcher Professor Oscar Ces, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: “Biological cells can perform extremely complex functions, but can be difficult to control when trying to harness one aspect. Artificial cells can be programmed more easily but we cannot yet build in much complexity.

“Our new system bridges the gap between these two approaches by fusing whole biological cells with artificial ones so that the machinery of both works in concert to produce what we need. This is a paradigm shift in thinking about the way we design artificial cells, which will help accelerate research on applications in healthcare and beyond.”

The first author of the study Dr. Yuval Elani, an EPSRC Research Fellow from the Department of Chemistry, said: “The system we designed is controllable and customizable. You can create different sizes of artificial cells in a reproducible manner, and there is the potential to add in all kinds of cell machinery, such as chloroplasts for performing photosynthesis or engineered microbes that act as sensors.”

While a system like that may be a way off yet, the team say this is a promising leap in the right direction. The work is the first example of fusing living and non-living components to emerge from Imperial and King’s College’s new FABRICELL center for artificial cell science.

The new study, published today in Scientific Reports, goes one step further and encapsulates entire cells in artificial casings.