Self-assembled systems and minimal cells
The desire to emulate the complexity of living cells has inspired recent advances in the design and construction of synthetic micro-compartments containing functional biochemical components. However, the development of such virus- and cell-like constructs is constrained by challenges associated with interfacing the internalized components in the form of functional ensembles that simulate the highly energized and interactive nature of biochemical networks.
With the advent of synthetic biology, it should now be possible to overcome this limitation using bio-inspired modular approaches, in which stripped-down biological components and machinery are combined and re-engineered specifically for in vitro operations that can be assimilated as integrated parts and components within virus- and cell-like micro-compartments, such as lipid vesicles, peptide/protein micro-capsules, inorganic colloidosomes or peptide/nucleotide microphase separated droplets.
The development of such synthetic compartments and protocells will involve the systematic inclusion and networking of engineered biomolecular and cellular components, and, for the latter, gene circuitry to establish biomimetic operations and modules based on off-line or on-line (cell-free) gene-directed protein synthesis, proto-cytoskeletal assembly, gated-membrane permeability and activity, minimal representations of photosynthesis, proto-respiration, artificial organelles and nanoscale machinery, and “culturing” of symbiotic protocellular populations. Achieving this vision depends critically on the construction and design of self-assembled systems, novel representations of synthetic cellularity, and re-engineering of minimal cells, all of which will be addressed in this Strand.