Artificial Cells - Fiction or Reality?

Interesting Engineering

How an average eukaryotic cell looks like? Very roughly explained, this is a water solution of organic chemical compounds (known as cytoplasm) encapsulated within double layered lipid cell membrane. There are various functional units within the cell called organelles, such as mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, ribosomes, and probably the most important one – the nucleus that contains the genetic material.
Cells have mostly oval shape, but there are cells with specific shapes, such as the spindle-like muscle cells or some nerve cells that look like a star.

800px-Sertoli_cell_tumour_high_mag[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Many scientists that work in the field of chemistry are trying to create fully functional, artificial cellular structures. Although some artificial units with structure similar to the living cell are already in use for manufacturing of medicaments, the creation of living artificial cell is impossible at the moment. The synthetic biology definition for “living” artificial cell is a cell made entirely of synthetic materials that is able to mutate, maintain ion gradients, capture energy, and store information. However, liposomes in the role of artificial cell components proved their reliability in medicine providing easier passage through the cell membrane of the medicament they carry. Liposomes also decrease the immune response against their cargo and lower eventual allergic reaction.

Various methods for creating artificial cells were tried at the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM). Wilhelm Huck, a professor at the same institute, is utilizing tiny droplets of solutions that have chemical composition very close to the cytoplasm of a real cell.
"Competing groups are working closer to biology; making cells from fatty acids, for example. We would like to do the same in the future. Another step would be to make cells that produce their own energy supply. We are also working on ways of controlling the movement of chemicals within the cell, towards organelles," says Huck. "By simulating these things, we are able to better understand living cells. One day we will even be able to make something that looks very much like the real thing."
One of the latest researches regarding this subject was held by Jan van Hest from Radboud University Nijmegen and Sébastien Lecommandoux at the University of Bordeaux. They have created artificial organelles by filling nano-spheres with chemical compounds and injecting them into a droplet of water. The future artificial cell needed a membrane, so the scientists covered the droplet with a layer of plastic polymer. The team has detected successfully the cascade of chemical reactions they planned, which made them the first chemists to build a cell out of plastic with working organelles. Reactions were detected using fluorescent colorant.