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Building functional synthetic cells from the bottom-up is an ongoing effort of scientists around the globe. Their use in studying cellular mechanisms in a highly controlled and pre-defined setting creates great value for understanding nature as well as developing new therapeutic approaches
Scientists are now able to take the next step towards synthetic cells
They introduced functional DNA-based cytoskeletons into cell-sized compartments. Cytoskeletons are essential components of each cell that control their shape, internal organization and other vital functions such as the transport of molecules between different parts of the cell. Upon incorporating the cytoskeletons into the synthetic droplets, the researchers also showed functionality, including the transport of molecules or assembly and disassembly upon certain triggers. The results were recently published in Nature Chemistry.
The cytoskeleton is a crucial component of each cell, and it is made up of various proteins. Beyond the basic function of giving the cell its shape, it is essential for many cellular processes such as cell division, intracellular transport of various molecules and motility in response to external signaling. Due to its importance in natural systems, being able to mimic its functionality in an artificial setup is an important step toward building and designing a synthetic cell. However, it comes with many challenges due to its diverse requirements, including stability as well as quick adaptability and reactivity to triggers
Researchers in the field of synthetic biology have previously used DNA nanotechnology to recreate cellular components such as DNA-based mimics of ion channels or cell-cell linkers. For this, they take advantage of the fact that DNA can be programmed or engineered to self-assemble into a pre-planned shape by complementary base-pairing.