Artificial cells are gaining much importance as they can substitute the natural cells. Scientists aim to create artificial cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. With recent advances in the formulation of the artificial cell ranging from simple protocells and synthetic cells to cell-mimic particles, the construction of living life is now not an unrealistic goal. The artificial cell assemblies can communicate with each other, and the cells are separated by fatty membranes, exchanging small chemical signaling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins.
Friedrich Simmel und Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), are successful in creating such artificial cell-like systems, and the cells are able to communicate with each other.
The artificial cell is gel or emulsion droplet, which is encapsulated in thin fat or polymer membranes and serves as the basic building blocks for the artificial cells. For about 10 to 100 micron sized unit inside, it can proceed chemical and biochemical reactions. The droplets were enclosed by lipid membranes and assembled them into artificial multicellular structures called micro-tissues. The biochemical reaction solutions used in the droplets have the ability to produce RNA and proteins, giving the cells a kind of gene expression ability.
The small signal molecules can be exchanged between cells through their membranes or protein channels built into the membranes. This can temporally and spatially couple with each other, and thus, the system becomes dynamic. The chemical pulses propagate through cell structure and pass information, where the signals trigger, allowing identical cells to develop differently.
Complex organisms are mimicked only after cells start specializing and distributing work between cooperating cells. The cells react to their environment and learn to act independently. Artificial cell assemblies are deployed as mini-factories to produce specific biomolecules or tiny micro-robot sensors that process information and adapt to their environments.
Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin in the future may collaborate with Munich University of Applied Sciences to systematically build larger and more lifelike systems using 3D printing technology.