Synthetic cells - Towards the giant leap from molecules to lifeThe cell is one of the most unique creation where on one hand it can be seen as just a group of molecules in a membrane while on the other it is a collection of macro-molecular machine which produces and helps molecules grow, multiply and transfer information. These molecules along with chemical reactions help create life. The mechanism behind this is being studied by Professor Marileen Dogterom of the Bio-nanoscience field, to eventually form synthetic cells by re-creation of cellular machineries. According to her theory, these synthetic cells could provide the insight required to modify and restore human cells which could be used in treatment of cure of diseases easily.
Synthetic cells Extremely Active and VibrantDrug research helps in finding out which aspect in the cell is to be treated or worked upon to restore it back to the original version of it that was harmed by the disease. Professor Dogterom says that there will be a lot of trials and errors in drug research as long as the mechanisms in the cell are not fully understood. Once the necessary mechanisms are recreated, there will be a better understanding to how and where diseases originate from. At the same time, this will help reveal how exactly do medications work and how cell mechanisms are repaired. It would, in all probability, lead to more focused drug researches and give an in-depth understanding to disease processes with less detrimental side effects.
The number and intricacy of cell mechanisms that can be reconstructed outside cells has increased vastly in recent years. Dogterom thus is optimistic about the future saying that this will help put together something that has the basic abilities as life within the next two decades. The basic competences of life are the ability to create and use molecules, also known as metabolism, tranfering of cellular information to progeny via DNA and cell evolution and multiplication. Currently the researches are focused on mainly these three competences separately.
How Does Synthetic cells Give Inspiration to Researches?The combination of these three separate mechanisms might be accessible once they are mastered. Once this combination is achieved there will be a tremendous breakthrough in synthetic cells research, says Dogterom. The research on synthetic cells is very vital and is still a small step in arena of vast possibilities. Dogterom concludes that it is helpful to know what information from the research is relevant to clinicians along with letting the research community know about her works so that both can work hand in hand in the field of researching on synthetic cells. It is inspiring as with their feedback, more progress can be made in this area within a reasonable amount of time.
Synthetic Cells for Building Synthetic Bone ImplantThis same research has been applied by scientists to develop synthetic bone tissue that could change the face of bone marrow transplants, which usually produces a lot of undesirable side effects, according to a Medical Xpress report. Patients who require a bone marrow transplant are stereotypically required to undergo radiation treatment. The radiation kills the stem cells in the marrow that would conflict with the donor cells and makes space.
Among the many side effects, patients suffer from nausea, tiredness and infertility resulting from this treatment. As a solution to these problems, a bone-like implant was created using synthetic cells by bio-engineers from the University of California San Diego. This implant allows the donor cells their own space where they can live and grow without any interference from the existing stem cells in the marrow. As a result, the existing stem cells are not required to be killed, thus preventing the use of radiation on patients.
Experiments and researches were conducted on mice, where it was discovered that the implanted bone marrow was fully functional and it allowed the donor cells to grow and live for a long period of time even in the company of host cells. Both the host and the donor cells could travel between the blood circulating through the network of blood vessels formed in the implant tissue and the implant itself. However, there are certain restrictions to its implementation as the bone implants cannot be applied to patients with malignant bone marrow diseases with cancerous cells that have to be killed off.
Raised Stakes in the Quest to Harness Synthetic LifeCraig Venter, a Genomics entrepreneur, has formed synthetic cells that hold the tiniest genomes of any known, independent life form. This discovery is a landmark in his team’s research, spanning about 20 years of time, in making an in-depth study of life’s bare essentials and understanding the process of evolution of life from scratch. He is a co-founder of a company that researches in harnessing synthetic cells for use in the industrial field. His whole research is based on the idea that instead of making a brand new life form, we can build on what already exists and base the research on that.
The first synthetic cells were made in 2010 where an existing bacterial genome was copied and was transplanted into another cell. Unlike those, the minimal cells’ genome is like nothing ever seen in nature and is made up of a whole new and artificial species. In order to test his ideologies, Venter and his team proceeded to build a minimal genome starting from basics by connecting together chemically synthesised DNA segments. With the help of new technologies, they put in efforts in making an exact copy of a genome.
After overcoming many setbacks and obstacles, Venter and his team had a breakthrough where they discovered a gene design which had all the essential genes required for cellular activities such as making proteins, duplicating DNA and constructing cellular membranes. However, their research still had many unsolved puzzles which they yet had to unlock.
This genome designing techniques are believed to be useful by researchers for applications such as editing a genome to include new amino acids. This will be the new favourable approach to conduct therapies. Venter acknowledged that he stumbled upon his find and that it was completely through trial and error instead of being based on a carefully studied approach on how to build an operative genome. However, he said he sees quick improvements in the future and the preferred approach for manipulating life would be the process of genome synthesis from scratch.