Scientists have developed "Lego block" artificial cells that can find and kill bacteria, paving way for new treatments against infections. The artificial cells mimic the essential features of live cells, but are short-lived and cannot divide to reproduce themselves. The cells were designed to respond to a unique chemical signature on E coli bacteria.
"We engineered artificial cells from the bottom-up like Lego blocks to destroy bacteria," said Cheemeng Tan, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who led the work.
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The cells are built from liposomes, or bubbles with a cell-like lipid membrane, and purified cellular components including proteins, DNA and metabolites.
"We demonstrated that artificial cells can sense, react and interact with bacteria, as well as function as systems that both detect and kill bacteria with little dependence on their environment," Tan said.
Artificial cells previously only had been successful in nutrient-rich environments, Tan said.
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However, by optimising the artificial cells' membranes, cytosol and genetic circuits, the team made them work in a wide variety of environments with very limited resources such as water, emphasising their robustness in less-than-ideal or changing conditions.
These improvements significantly broaden the overall potential application of artificial cells.
Antibacterial artificial cells might one day be infused into patients to tackle infections resistant to other treatments. They might also be used to deliver drugs at the specific location and time, or as biosensors.