Scientists created artificial cells that 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.
The Imperial London 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 have created the first artificial cells that can sense and respond to an external chemical signal through activation of an artificial signalling pathway. They created cells that sense calcium ions and respond by fluorescing.
The team created an artificial cell that has smaller cells (‘vesicles‘) inside. The edge of the cell is formed of a membrane that contains pores, which allow calcium ions to enter. Inside the cell, the calcium ions activate enzymes that cause the vesicles to release particles that fluoresce.
The researchers’ system is simpler because it doesn’t need to account for many of the things cells need to get around in natural systems such as by-products that are toxic to the cell.
Within the system, the membrane pores and the enzymes activated by calcium are from existing biological systems the enzyme is taken from bee venom.
Co-author Professor Oscar Ces, from the Department of Chemistry at Imperial, said: “Our template system is also easy to set up and can be used to quickly test any new combination of elements researchers come up with.”