Science

Creating life from scratch in a lab

Press Trust of India Washington | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 23, 2015

Artificial membranes that grow like living cells designed, will help replicate behaviour

Scientists led by an Indian-origin researcher have designed and synthesised an artificial cell membrane capable of sustaining continual growth, just like a living cell.

The team at the University of California, San Diego said the achievement will allow scientists to more accurately replicate the behaviour of living cell membranes, which until now have been modelled only by synthetic cell membranes without the ability to add new phospholipids.

“The membranes we created, though completely synthetic, mimic several features of more complex living organisms, such as the ability to adapt their composition in response to environmental cues,” said Neal Devaraj, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego who headed the research team.

“Many other scientists have exploited the ability of lipids to self-assemble into bi-layer vesicles with properties reminiscent of cellular membranes, but until now no one has been able to mimic nature’s ability to support persistent phospholipid membrane formation,” he explained.

“We developed an artificial cell membrane that continually synthesises all of the components needed to form additional catalytic membranes,” he said. The scientists said that to develop the growing membrane they substituted a “complex network of biochemical pathways used in nature with a single autocatalyst that simultaneously drives membrane growth.”

In this way, they added, “our system continually transforms simpler, higher-energy building blocks into new artificial membranes.” “Our results demonstrate that complex lipid membranes capable of indefinite self-synthesis can emerge when supplied with simpler chemical building blocks,” said Devaraj.

“Synthetic cell membranes that can grow like real membranes will be an important new tool for synthetic biology and origin of life studies,” he said.

Published on June 23, 2015

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