Life, but not as we know it?

May 28, 2008

Researchers at The University of Nottingham have taken some important first steps to creating a synthetic copycat of a living cell, a leading science journal reports.

Dr Cameron Alexander and PhD student George Pasparakis in the University's School of Pharmacy have used polymers — long-chain molecules — to construct capsule-like structures that have properties mimicking the surfaces of a real cell.

In work published as a 'VIP paper' in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, they show how in the laboratory they have been able to encourage the capsules to 'talk' to natural bacteria cells and transfer molecular information.

The breakthrough could have a number of potential medical uses. Among them could be the development of new targeted drug delivery systems, where the capsules would be used to carry drug molecules to attack specific diseased cells in the body, while leaving healthy cells intact, thereby reducing the number of side affects that can be associated with treatments for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer.

The technology could also be used as an anti-microbial agent, allowing doctors to destroy harmful bacteria, without attacking other health-promoting bacteria in the body, which could offer a new weapon in the fight against superbugs.

Dr Cameron Alexander said: “These are very primitive steps in the lab, and still a long way from a true synthetic counterpart to a biological cell, but we have demonstrated that we can transfer certain molecules from inside the synthetic capsule to the bacteria when they are in physical contact, which is an exciting development.

“It's extremely early stages, but it's a move closer to the big experiment when we can one day ask whether a natural cell can think a synthetic cell is one of its own.”

The work has been funded through the IDEAS Factory programme run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which aims to promote blue sky, curiosity-led research. It comes ahead of the launch of one of the UK's first research networks into synthetic biology, which is led by Nottingham computer scientists and pharmacists with chemists at Oxford and Glasgow universities. The network, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the EPSRC Life Sciences Interface Programme, involves collaboration across six centres and includes scientific and ethics experts in the emerging field of synthetic biology.

The paper, entitled Sweet-talking Double Hydrophilic Block Copolymer Vesicles, can be accessed online at dx.doi.org/10.1002/anie.200801098

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: New technique reveals immune cell motion through variety of tissues

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Brazil: Google fined in Petrobras probe

27 minutes ago

A Brazilian court says it has fined Google around $200,000 for refusing to intercept emails needed in a corruption investigation at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Atari's 'E.T.' game joins Smithsonian collection

47 minutes ago

One of the "E.T." Atari game cartridges unearthed this year from a heap of garbage buried deep in the New Mexico desert has been added to the video game history collection at the Smithsonian.

Sony threatens to sue for publishing stolen emails

57 minutes ago

A lawyer representing Sony Pictures Entertainment is warning news organizations not to publish details of company files leaked by hackers in one of the largest digital breaches ever against an American company.

Microsoft builds support over Ireland email case

1 hour ago

Microsoft said Monday it had secured broad support from a coalition of influential technology and media firms as it seeks to challenge a US ruling ordering it to hand over emails stored on a server in Ireland.

Recommended for you

'Global positioning' for molecules

19 hours ago

In everyday life, the global positioning system (GPS) can be employed to reliably determine the momentary location of one en route to the desired destination. Scientists from the Institute of Physical and ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.