Scientists develop new process to create artificial cell membranes

Oct 01, 2013

The membranes surrounding and inside cells are involved in every aspect of biological function. They separate the cell's various metabolic functions, compartmentalize the genetic material, and drive evolution by separating a cell's biochemical activities. They are also the largest and most complex structures that cells synthesize.

Understanding the myriad biochemical roles of membranes requires the ability to prepare synthetic versions of these complex multi-layered structures, which has been a long-standing challenge.

In a study published this week by Nature Chemistry, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report a highly programmable and controlled platform for preparing and experimentally probing synthetic cellular structures.

"Layer-by-layer membrane assembly allows us to create synthetic with membranes of arbitrary complexity at the molecular and supramolecular scale," said TSRI Assistant Professor Brian Paegel, who authored the study with Research Associate Sandro Matosevic. "We can now control the molecular composition of the inner and outer layers of a bilayer , and even assemble multi-layered membranes that resemble the envelope of the cell nucleus."

Starting with a technique commonly used to deposit molecules on a solid surface, Langmuir-Blodgett deposition, the scientists repurposed the approach to work on liquid objects.

The scientists engineered a microfluidic device containing an array of microscopic cups, each trapping a single droplet of water bathed in oil and lipids, the molecules that make up . The trapped are then ready to serve as a foundation for building up a series of lipid layers like coats of paint.

The lipid-coated water droplets are first bathed in water. As the water/oil interface encounters the trapped droplets, a second lipid layer coats the droplets and transforms them into what are known as unilamellar or single-layer vesicles. Bathing the vesicles in oil/lipid deposits a third lipid layer, and followed by a final layer of lipids that is deposited on the trapped drops to yield double-bilayer vesicles.

"The computer-controlled microfluidic circuits we have constructed will allow us to assemble synthetic cells not only from biologically derived lipids, but from any amphiphile and to measure important chemical and physical parameters, such as permeability and stability," said Paegel.

Explore further: Researchers create designer 'barrel' proteins

More information: "Layer-by-layer Cell Membrane Assembly," www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v… /abs/nchem.1765.html

Related Stories

Scientists create cell assembly line

Mar 03, 2011

Borrowing a page from modern manufacturing, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have built a microscopic assembly line that mass produces synthetic cell-like compartments.

Pathway for membrane building blocks

Jan 30, 2013

Biomembranes consist of a mosaic of individual, densely packed lipid molecules. These molecules are formed inside the cells. But how do these building blocks move to the correct part of the membrane? Researchers ...

Recommended for you

Amino acids key to new gold leaching process

20 hours ago

Curtin University scientists have developed a gold and copper extraction process using an amino acid–hydrogen peroxide system, which could provide an environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to ...

Researchers create designer 'barrel' proteins

Oct 23, 2014

Proteins are long linear molecules that fold up to form well-defined 3D shapes. These 3D molecular architectures are essential for biological functions such as the elasticity of skin, the digestion of food, ...

User comments : 0