How far are we from producing artificial cells in the lab?

In summary: Dead cells probably have subtle disruptions that could not be reversed without a whole lot of little molecular scale demons to put lots of molecules back in their proper places and keep them there until things get started. This would be a daunting approach.
  • #1
Aidyan
180
13
TL;DR Summary
I would like to understand how far the field of research of synthetic biology is from creating life from scratch?
Synthetic biology is a rapidly growing field of science that aims at redesigning organisms for medical and agricultural applications, by means of biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology and other methods by chemical, biological or computer engineering. As far as I understand it, synthetic biology was very successful in genome synthesis and cell transformations. But how far are we realistically from a futuristic technology that will be able, not just of modifying, but also of producing living organisms, or at least a single living cell, by means of its constituents in a bottom-up approach? How much is this a realistic and actual science, and how much is this a hype or sci-fi utopia?
 
Biology news on Phys.org
  • #2
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390888/
Far? I do not know. The article discusses liposomes.

Simple very tiny fatty acid 'protoballs' with stuff inside is now commonplace in medicine. Liposomes, micelles, and other names. These balls are routinely used to make mRNA vaccines, medicines. Some supplements use them as well.

These things are hollow balls of fatty acids. Molecular payload in the center. So these things are in the "everyday" realm now. Their goal is to improve bioavailability of the payload in the center. Medicines work better when they can waltz on into target cells instead of being hung up in the GI tract because the rate of absorption is very low.

So you could consider these as primitive cell membranes - what the article talks about as a model. So we have made some steps toward synthetic cells.
 
  • Like
Likes artis, BillTre, Aidyan and 1 other person
  • #3
Aidyan said:
Summary:: I would like to understand how far the field of research of synthetic biology is from creating life from scratch?

or at least a single living cell, by means of its constituents in a bottom-up approach?
Why not take a 'dead' cell and make it 'living' again?
All the constituents are there.

And I don't thing we even know what makes a hibernating cell - one that appears to be dead - able to rejoin the world of the living when environmental conditions are correct.
 
  • #4
Aidyan said:
Summary:: I would like to understand how far the field of research of synthetic biology is from creating life from scratch?

synthetic biology was very successful in genome synthesis and cell transformations.
Yes, that seems to be the case.
Aidyan said:
Summary:: I would like to understand how far the field of research of synthetic biology is from creating life from scratch?

how far are we realistically from a futuristic technology that will be able, not just of modifying, but also of producing living organisms, or at least a single living cell, by means of its constituents in a bottom-up approach
jim mcnamara said:
Liposomes, ...
So you could consider these as primitive cell membranes - what the article talks about as a model. So we have made some steps toward synthetic cells.
This approach would amount to a new independent, lab based, origin of life.
Not going to happen soon. The most recent approach to this is similar to what @jim mcnamara said, little lipid membrane enclosed vesicles. In the world of origin of life research, as opposed to medical uses, these have been made in labs with a variety of amphiphilic molecules (not just those naturally found in today's membranes.
In labs, when supplied with the right resources and also containing something like replicating RNAs they can grow and divide. However, they are not considered alive.
They would need a metabolic system to:
  • take in available environmental energy and resources (from the lab dish they live in),
  • make cell usable chemical energy chemicals (like ATP)
  • be able to make all their molecular components to replace worn parts and to be able to grow and divide
  • export waste (probably by diffusion in small simple "cells"
They would also need a starting package of cellular components all ready to go. For example, ribosomes for making proteins would have to be provided to make proteins (which would be needed to make the ribosomes if they were not already there).

This is most easily done by taking an already alive cell and removing and then restoring its genetics.
Venter's company has done this with cells to make the cell's genetics completely controlled (in a sense).
Starting from scratch to build a whole new cell would be a lot more work.

256bits said:
Why not take a 'dead' cell and make it 'living' again?
All the constituents are there.
Dead cells probably have subtle disruptions that could not be reversed without a whole lot of little molecular scale demons to put lots of molecules back in their proper places and keep them there until things get started. This would be a daunting approach.

Modern indicators of dead cells involve using dyes that can not get through intact membranes. Membrane disruption has a lot of consequences like massive influxes of Ca ions, which bind to proteins in the cell and (probably irreversibly) denature them. This is unlikely to be reversed.

Any approach to make some more complex living thing from scratch, would have to start with making a single cell followed by growing it into something larger and more complex.
This would involve giving it either a developmental program (complex) to generate a multicellular thing or would take a lot of time to evolve something more complex.
 
  • Like
Likes Aidyan, artis, jim mcnamara and 1 other person
  • #5
Some folks are getting rather close, even if it was by accident.

Self-replicating molecules show signs of metabolism for the first time
Muchowska is hesitant to call the system protometabolic – it is missing the ability to store energy and perform endergonic processes – but says that ‘the fact that they’re recruiting a cofactor to perform catalysis within the self-replicating system is really important, I think, to start looking at the emergence of biocatalysis in a living system’.
(bold added)

above from:
https://www.chemistryworld.com/news...metabolism-for-the-first-time/4012152.article

Cheers,
Tom
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes pinball1970, Oldman too and BillTre
  • #6
The answer to your question depends of what you call a cell... ...and what you call synthetic.

...if you absolutely must have nucleated cells, the answer is: way more time.

If you're content with bacterial cells, and content with a genome so heavily edited that nothing not required for cell growth and replication is left over, the answer is "we got there in 2016.":

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aad6253
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes pinball1970 and Tom.G
  • #7
  • Like
Likes BillTre

Related to How far are we from producing artificial cells in the lab?

1. How close are we to producing artificial cells in the lab?

Currently, scientists have been able to create simple artificial cells in the lab, but they are still far from being able to produce fully functional cells that can replicate and carry out complex biological processes.

2. What are the biggest challenges in producing artificial cells in the lab?

One of the biggest challenges is recreating the complex and intricate structures found in natural cells, such as the cell membrane and organelles. Another challenge is creating a self-sustaining system that can replicate and evolve like natural cells.

3. What methods are being used to produce artificial cells in the lab?

Scientists are using a variety of methods, such as lipid vesicles, microfluidics, and bottom-up assembly, to create artificial cells. Each method has its own advantages and limitations, and researchers are still exploring which approach is most effective.

4. What are the potential applications of artificial cells?

If scientists are able to successfully produce artificial cells in the lab, they could have numerous applications in medicine, biotechnology, and materials science. For example, artificial cells could be used to deliver drugs to specific areas of the body or to create new materials with unique properties.

5. What are the ethical implications of producing artificial cells in the lab?

As with any new technology, there are ethical considerations to be addressed when it comes to producing artificial cells. These include questions about the potential impact on natural ecosystems, the potential for misuse or unintended consequences, and the potential for creating new forms of life.

Similar threads

  • Biology and Medical
Replies
1
Views
1K
  • Biology and Medical
Replies
3
Views
2K
  • Biology and Medical
Replies
26
Views
10K
  • Biology and Medical
Replies
2
Views
3K
Replies
3
Views
4K
Replies
7
Views
2K
  • Biology and Medical
Replies
8
Views
5K
  • Biology and Medical
Replies
3
Views
2K
Replies
8
Views
4K
Replies
16
Views
2K
Back
Top