Artificial membranes that grow like living cells

Washington, June 23 (IANS) A team of scientists headed by an Indian-American has succeeded in designing and synthesising an artificial cell membrane capable of sustaining continual growth, just like a living cell.

This will allow scientists to more accurately replicate the behaviour of living cell membranes.

“The membranes we created, though completely synthetic, mimic several features of more complex living organisms, such as the ability to adapt their composition in response to environmental cues,” said lead author Neal Devaraj, an Indian-American assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of California, San Diego.

So far such membranes have been modelled only by synthetic cell membranes without the ability to add new phospholipids, important molecules that provide structure and protection to cells.

“Many other scientists have exploited the ability of lipids to self-assemble into bilayer vesicles with properties reminiscent of cellular membranes but until now no one has been able to mimic nature’s ability to support persistent phospholipid membrane formation,” Devaraj said.

The artificial cell membrane synthesises all the components needed to form additional catalytic membranes.

“For developing the growing membrane, we substituted a complex network of biochemical pathways used in nature with a single autocatalyst that simultaneously drives membrane growth.”

Thus, the system continually transforms simpler, higher-energy building blocks into new artificial membranes.

“Synthetic cell membranes that can grow like real membranes will be an important new tool for synthetic biology and origin of life studies.”

The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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