Monday, 28 May 2012

Artificial cell life, an overview of the basics.


The purpose of the Artificial cell project, is mainly self explanatory, the goal being, to create molecular sized partitioned chambers, able to self replicate and capable of not only containing, but propagating Genetic material. The first step of this project was to separate a phospholipid vesicle and integrate it with genetic material. After the initial success, the project begun working on attempting vitro gene expression within their own synthetic vesicles. Yet another success, as while the majority were unable to support life, it was found that certain genetic sequences were able to survive within the vesicles, provided the vesicles environment contained all the necessary nutritional sources. Using the information gathered from these experiments, a design was drawn up, of a synthetic, artificial cell, this cell, would be created from nothing, working from the base elements up. For simplicities sake it was decided that the cell would have a similar structure to that of bacteria. The source of energy for the cells was decided to be ATP and GTP, while the genetic material was to be extracted from existing organisms using external machineries. The size of the cell could be easily determined by the cell wall material, a phospholipid bilayer, used because of it's reaction to aqueous solutions. When submerged into a aqueous solution the phospholipids spontaneously rearrange themselves into molecular vesicles. This reaction takes place because of the hydrophobic nature of the fatty linear chains. Without lipid bilayers, there would be no living systems, as they are necessary for the absorption, and excretion of not only genetic information, but all forms of molecular debris within cells. In this way, water is truly a prerequisite for all life, not only for the creation of vesicles, but also the cell exchanges as well as some parts of protein formation. The use of external transcription and translation tools, allows for large boost in the productivity of a huge amount of genetic material, regardless of their transcription requirements. Because of this, the aim of specific DNA replication, is becoming one of the major problems facing the project. Selecting the self replicating material specifically remains a serious difficulty in the project. Going hand in hand with specific propagation, is the process of self organising genetic material. Once the material is created, the programming of the material to assume certain specific orders and structures remains a severe hurdle. As does the creation of a phospholipid membrane able to support the genetic material and actively support an equilibrium with it's environment. The problems with creating a self replicating artificial cell are as numerous as they are serious, but the project continues forward regardless. With the hope that we may one day be able to complete experiments on the evolutionary processes, to further our understanding of the universe and our own nature.

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