Scientists from the University of Chicago and New York University have created artificial cells that mimic certain properties of living cells. For example, they can take materials from the environment and perform simple biological processes with them, and then expel them.
The creation of “cell mimics” would have potential applications ranging from drug administration to environmental science issues. When deployed in mixtures of different particles, cell mimics can autonomously carry a microscopic charge, approaching the functioning of living cells.
According to a press release , these artificial cells are made with minimal ingredients and do not borrow biological materials. In this way, American scientists argue that they have created the first artificial system that can mimic the active transport process of natural cells, one of the functions for which they stand out as perfect and complex “biological micro-machines.”
MIMIC BIOLOGICAL MECHANISMS
The cell is the morphological and functional unit of every living being. Consequently, it can be understood as the smallest element endowed with life. Based on this, living organisms are classified according to the number of cells they have: unicellular or multicellular.
In the natural environment, living organisms need to transport molecules and chemicals to meet certain requirements in their bodies. Natural cells have developed highly complex mechanisms that allow them to achieve these goals, but until now it has been very difficult for science to recreate these incredible natural processes artificially.
A key aspect of living cells is their ability to harvest energy from the environment and use it to transport different materials and substances in and out of your system. This ability, called active transport , allows cells to store metabolic energy, extract waste, and deliver directed elements to other biological structures. However, artificial systems do not have the delicate biochemical machinery that can be specifically activated to precisely control biological matter.
Now, those responsible for the study recently published in the journal Nature say they have achieved a unique advance in this effort: their tiny “artificial cells” can not only capture materials, but also release their charge at just the right moment , when they are exposed to light. or a change in pH levels.
TESTING AND APPLICATIONS
In addition to being able to transport drugs to specific places in the human body or function as “microscopic cleaning agents” in environmental remediation scenarios, cell mimics could be applied in robotics or nanotechnology, to build machines or robots on a microscopic scale.
How do these artificial cells recreate some of the biological processes that living cells carry out? By inducing different chemical reactions and adjusting the design of the tiny cell mimics, the specialists were able to set a tiny “bomb” inside them. It can be activated to suck in or expel materials from the environment of artificial cells , just as natural cells do.
It is worth noting that this scheme is not just a theoretical proposition: the scientists put the design to the test in different settings. In one experiment, they suspended the cell mimics in water, activated them with light, and found that they were capable of ingesting particles or impurities from the water around them.