Artificial assembly of a minimal cell.
ABSTRACT Synthetic Biology approaches can assemble and/or reconstruct cell parts in synthetic compartments. A minimal cell as a model for early living cells can be artificially constructed in the laboratory resuming the main properties of a basic cell living system: a synthetic cell compartment or liposome to host a minimal metabolism based on protein synthesis, and a shell and core reproduction mechanism, all in an artificial cell assembly and remaining in the realm of minimal living. It is becoming realistic to construct artificial cells, starting from a minimal cell assembly, and deliver cell-like bioreactors to synthesize pure proteins/enzymes or isolate single pathways. These artificial cell-like systems could perform different tasks in antimicrobial drug development, drug delivery and diagnostic applications.
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ABSTRACT: Metabolic networks perform some of the most fundamental functions in living cells, including energy transduction and building block biosynthesis. While these are the best characterized networks in living systems, understanding their evolutionary history and complex wiring constitutes one of the most fascinating open questions in biology, intimately related to the enigma of life's origin itself. Is the evolution of metabolism subject to general principles, beyond the unpredictable accumulation of multiple historical accidents? Here we search for such principles by applying to an artificial chemical universe some of the methodologies developed for the study of genome scale models of cellular metabolism. In particular, we use metabolic flux constraint-based models to exhaustively search for artificial chemistry pathways that can optimally perform an array of elementary metabolic functions. Despite the simplicity of the model employed, we find that the ensuing pathways display a surprisingly rich set of properties, including the existence of autocatalytic cycles and hierarchical modules, the appearance of universally preferable metabolites and reactions, and a logarithmic trend of pathway length as a function of input/output molecule size. Some of these properties can be derived analytically, borrowing methods previously used in cryptography. In addition, by mapping biochemical networks onto a simplified carbon atom reaction backbone, we find that several of the properties predicted by the artificial chemistry model hold for real metabolic networks. These findings suggest that optimality principles and arithmetic simplicity might lie beneath some aspects of biochemical complexity.PLoS Computational Biology 01/2014; 6(4):e1000725. · 4.87 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The construction of an irreducible minimal cell having all essential attributes of a living system is one of the biggest challenges facing synthetic biology. One ubiquitous task accomplished by any living systems is the division of the cell envelope. Hence, the assembly of an elementary, albeit sufficient, molecular machinery that supports compartment division, is a crucial step towards the realization of self-reproducing artificial cells. Looking backward to the molecular nature of possible ancestral, supposedly more rudimentary, cell division systems may help to identify a minimal divisome. In light of a possible evolutionary pathway of division mechanisms from simple lipid vesicles toward modern life, we define two approaches for recapitulating division in primitive cells: the membrane deforming protein route and the lipid biosynthesis route. Having identified possible proteins and working mechanisms participating in membrane shape alteration, we then discuss how they could be integrated into the construction framework of a programmable minimal cell relying on gene expression inside liposomes. The protein synthesis using recombinant elements (PURE) system, a reconstituted minimal gene expression system, is conceivably the most versatile synthesis platform. As a first step towards the de novo synthesis of a divisome, we showed that the N-BAR domain protein produced from its gene could assemble onto the outer surface of liposomes and sculpt the membrane into tubular structures. We finally discuss the remaining challenges for building up a self-reproducing minimal cell, in particular the coupling of the division machinery with volume expansion and genome replication.Systems and Synthetic Biology 09/2014; 8(3).