Protocells use DNA logic to communicate and compute

March 4, 2019, University of Bristol
Microscopy image showing green, dark blue and blue-labelled synthetic protocells used for DNA communication and computing. The protocells contain DNA logic gates and are trapped between pairs of small pillars (grey objects) in a microfluidic device. Scale bar, 100 μm. Credit: University of Bristol

The work provides a step towards chemical cognition in synthetic protocells and could be useful in biosensing and therapeutics.

Molecular computers made from DNA use programmable interactions between DNA strands to transform DNA inputs into coded outputs. However, DNA computers are slow because they operate in a chemical soup where they rely on random molecular diffusion to execute a computational step.

Assembling these processes inside artificial cell-like entities (protocells) capable of sending DNA input and output signals to each other would increase the speed of the molecular computations and protect the entrapped DNA strands from degradation by enzymes present in blood.

In a new study published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, a team led by Professor Stephen Mann from the University of Bristol's School of Chemistry and Professor Tom de Greef from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology have developed a new approach called BIO-PC (Biomolecular Implementation Of Protocell communication) based on communities of semi-permeable capsules (proteinosomes) containing a diversity of DNA logic gates that together can be used for molecular sensing and computation.

Compartmentalisation increases the speed, modularity and designability of the computational circuits, reduces cross-talk between the DNA strands, and enables molecular circuits to function in serum.

This new approach lays the groundwork for using protocell communication platforms to bring embedded molecular control circuits closer to practical applications in biosensing and therapeutics.

Professor Mann, from the Bristol Centre for Protolife Research, said: "The ability to chemically communicate between smart artificial cells using DNA logic codes opens up new opportunities at the interface between unconventional computing and life-like microscale systems.

"This should bring molecular control closer to practical applications and provide new insights into how protocells capable of information processing might have operated at the origin of life."

Explore further: Enzyme-powered protocells rise to the top

More information: DNA-based communication in populations of synthetic protocells, Nature Nanotechnology (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-019-0399-9 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41565-019-0399-9

Related Stories

Enzyme-powered protocells rise to the top

August 20, 2018

Researchers at the University of Bristol have successfully assembled enzyme-powered artificial cells that can float or sink depending on their internal chemical activity. The work provides a new approach to designing complex ...

Protocell guests flee the nest

September 7, 2018

Researchers at the University of Bristol have shown that resident artificial cells abandon their protocell hosts by displaying antagonistic behaviour on receiving a chemical signal.

Protocells on the hunt

October 4, 2016

Researchers at the University of Bristol have designed a synthetic community of artificial cells that collectively displays a simple form of predatory behaviour.

Building protocells from inorganic nanoparticles

May 10, 2013

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the University of Bristol have led a new enquiry into how extremely small particles of silica (sand) can be used to design and construct artificial protocells in the laboratory. The work is described ...

Recommended for you

Physicists discover new class of pentaquarks

March 26, 2019

Tomasz Skwarnicki, professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, has uncovered new information about a class of particles called pentaquarks. His findings could lead to a new understanding ...

Study finds people who feed birds impact conservation

March 26, 2019

People in many parts of the world feed birds in their backyards, often due to a desire to help wildlife or to connect with nature. In the United States alone, over 57 million households in the feed backyard birds, spending ...

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

0 comments

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.