Synthetic biology works on living systems that do not occur in nature. Researchers have now created programmable cyborg cells that should help fight cancer and other diseases in the future.
David (USA). Synthetic biology is a new branch of science in which biologists, chemists, and engineers work together to produce biological systems that do not exist in the natural environment . The aim of synthetic biology is therefore to create biological systems with new properties.
Researchers led by the biomedical scientist Cheemeng Tan from the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) have now created programmable cyborg cells that are said to have different possible applications. Like normal, living cells, the modified cells can perform certain tasks, but have no opportunity to reproduce.
Artificial polymers in living bacterial cells
According to their publication in the journal Advanced Science, the researchers used artificial polymer building blocks in living bacterial cells. They then irradiated the polymer building blocks in the cells with ultraviolet light, causing them to form a hydrogel matrix.
The hydrogel matrix ensures that the cells cannot reproduce but still retain their biological activity. The treatments also make cells more resistant to hydrogen peroxide, high pH levels, antibiotics, and other stressors that kill normal cells.
synthetic biology approaches
So far, there have been two approaches in synthetic biology to develop cells with additional functions. The first approach is to create a completely artificial cell from a synthetic membrane and biomolecules. Because these cells are significantly less complex than natural cells, they can only perform a few tasks.
In the second approach, the genome of a living bacterial cell is modified in such a way that it acquires additional functions. This makes it possible to modify a cell so that it can perform different tasks. However, the modified cell retains its ability to reproduce. It could therefore multiply uncontrollably with its artificial properties.
The scientists working with Tan, on the other hand, use a new approach with semi-living cyborg cells. These cannot multiply and are nevertheless significantly more complex than the cells from the first synthetic biology approach.
“The cyborg cells are programmable, do not divide, maintain essential cellular activities and acquire new abilities.”
Use of cyborg cells in medicine
According to the researchers, the cyborg cells could be used in medicine in the future. In one experiment, the modified cells have already been able to penetrate cancer cells. The researchers now want to investigate how the other matrix materials affect the cyborg cells and their potential uses.
Advanced Science, doi: 10.1002/advs.202204175