First published 2 September 2013
Recent advancements in synthetic cells research
Pasquale Stano, Erica D'Aguanno, Paolo Carrara, Alfred Fahr, Pier Luigi Luisi
This paper describes our recent investigations on the construction of synthetic cells. By following a bottom-up synthetic biology approach, we aim at constructing minimal synthetic cells based on the encapsulation of DNA, RNA and proteins within liposomes. We will firstly comment on the physics of solute entrapment inside liposomes, giving emphasis on a remarkable self-concentration effect discovered by us (Luisi et al. 2010, Souza et al. 2011, 2012). Next we will show how it is possible to exploit this phenomenon to reveal the formation of primitive-like, metabolically active cells starting from diluted macromolecular solutions (Stano et al., submitted). In conditions where a protein-synthesis reaction does not proceed at a significant rate, lipid vesicles can entrap all required solutes allowing intraliposome protein production. The second topic deals with the formation of simple, rudimentary primitive cell communities based on giant vesicles (GVs). Oleate-containing GVs associate between each other in the presence of poly-L-arginine to form clusters that might be taken as model of primitive cell communities. Their formation, driven by simple primitive electrostatic interactions bring about a series of distinctive features (stability, enhanced permeability, solute capture, fusion) that might emphasize the role of cooperation in origin of life scenarios, flanking the usual competition issues (Carrara et al., 2012).