Academic journal article Science and Children

Artificial Cells That Sense and Respond to Their Environment

Academic journal article Science and Children

Artificial Cells That Sense and Respond to Their Environment

Article excerpt

Researchers have created artificial cells that mimic biological cells by responding to a chemical change in their surroundings.

The artificial cells could be used to sense changes in the body and respond by releasing drug molecules, or to sense and remove harmful metals in the environment.

Responding to chemical changes is a crucial function of biological cells. For example, cells can respond to chemicals by creating certain proteins, boosting energy production, or self-destructing. Chemicals are also used by cells to communicate with each other and coordinate a response or send a signal, such as a pain impulse.

However, in natural cells these chemical responses can be very complex, involving multiple steps. This makes them difficult to engineer, for example if researchers wanted to make natural cells produce something useful, like a drug molecule. Instead, the researchers are creating artificial cells that mimic these chemical responses in a much simpler way, allowing them to be more easily engineered.

Now, the team has created the first artificial cells that can sense and respond to an external chemical signal through activation of an artificial signaling pathway. They created cells that sense calcium ions and respond by fluorescing (glowing).

According to first author James Hindley, "These systems could be developed for use across biotechnology. For example, we could envisage creating artificial cells that can sense cancer markers and synthesise a drug within the body, or artificial cells that can sense dangerous heavy metals in the environment and release selective sponges to clean them up. …

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