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Sticky protocells join forces in prototissue beating

Snapshots of video images showing a single cluster of artificial cells exhibiting a single beat-like oscillation as the temperature was changed above or below 37 ⁰C; scale bar, 50 μm. Dr Pierangelo Gobbo, University of Bristol

8 October 2018

A research team at the University of Bristol has developed a chemical approach to the construction of a tissue-like material from synthetic cells that is capable of beating when heated and cooled.

The development of synthetic tissue-like systems (prototissues) that mimic the ability of living cells to work together to produce functions such as synchronized beating and chemical detoxification is currently a major challenge in synthetic biology.

In work published today in Nature Materials, Professor Stephen Mann FRS together with colleagues Drs Pierangelo Gobbo, Avinash J. Patil, Mei Li, Robert Harniman, and Wuge H. Briscoe from the School of Chemistry, have addressed this challenge by chemically programming synthetic cells (protocells) to adhere to each other in a highly selective way.

The research team constructed two types of artificial cells each having a protein-polymer membrane but with complementary surface anchoring groups. They then assembled a mixture of the sticky protocells into chemically linked clusters to produce self-supporting prototissue spheroids. By using a polymer that could expand or contract as the temperature was changed below or above 37 ⁰C, it was possible to make the prototissues undergo sustained beat-like oscillations in size.

The functionality of the prototissues was increased by capturing enzymes within their constituent protocells. Using various combinations of enzymes, the team was able to modulate the amplitude of the beating and control the movement of chemical signals in and out of the prototissues.

Dr Pierangelo Gobbo stated: “Our methodology opens up a route from the synthetic construction of individual protocells to the co-assembly and spatial integration of multi-protocellular structures. In this way, we can combine the specialization of individual protocell types with the collective properties of the ensemble.”

Professor Stephen Mann said: “Our approach to the rational design and fabrication of prototissues bridges an important gap in bottom-up synthetic biology and should also contribute to the development of new bioinspired materials that work at the interface between living tissues and their synthetic counterparts.”

Further information

Programmed assembly of synthetic protocells into thermoresponsive prototissues Nature Materials 2018

Pierangelo Gobbo, Avinash J. Patil, Mei Li, Robert Harniman, Wuge H. Briscoe & Stephen Mann


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