Monday, March 1, 2010

B Fwd: Metamodern Cell-free biology

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Date: Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 9:07 PM
Subject: Metamodern (1 new item)

Metamodern (1 new item)

Item 1 (02/12/10 00:09:31 UTC): Cell-free biology

Cork cells, from Hooke's Micrographia
(Courtesy, Robert Hooke)

Synthetic biology doesn't require cells, and in several ways, cells are liabilities.

Cells can make engineering difficult. Cell membranes and bacterial walls stand between new genes and the machinery needed to transcribe and translate them. They are barriers to liberating gene products. They contain systems that are complex products of eons of evolutionary history, not systems streamlined to simplify engineering. They are easily poisoned by what would be, to us, useful raw materials and products.

The state of the art in cell-free synthetic biology is already advanced, and moving forward rapidly:

Time and again, decreasing the dependence on cells has increased engineering flexibility with biopolymers and self-copying systems….

Current in vitro methods for synthesizing proteins and evolving protein, nucleic acid, and small-molecule ligands will be improved to accelerate production of new reagents, diagnostics, and drugs. New methods will be developed for synthesizing circular DNAs, modified RNAs, proteins containing unnatural amino acids, and liposomes.

Forster and Church, "Synthetic biology projects in vitro".

A glimpse of some recent developments:

Cell-free systems offer a unique platform for expanding the capabilities of natural biological systems for useful purposes, i.e. synthetic biology. They reduce complexity, remove structural barriers, and do not require the maintenance of cell viability. Cell-free systems, however, have been limited by their inability to co-activate multiple biochemical networks in a single integrated platform. Here, we report the assessment of biochemical reactions in an Escherichia coli cell-free platform designed to activate natural metabolism, the Cytomim system….

Jewett et al., "An integrated cell-free metabolic platform
for protein production and synthetic biology".

Networks of productive molecular machine systems need not be packaged in discrete, self-replicating units — not even when they start out that way.

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