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UCSD Researchers Create Artificial Cell Membrane

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the sr-819-around-the-corner dept.

Biotech 54

cylonlover writes with an excerpt from a Gizmag article: "The cell membrane is one of the most important components of a cell because it separates the interior from the environment and controls the movement of substances in and out of the cell. In a move that brings mankind another step closer to being able to create artificial life forms from scratch, chemists from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and Harvard University have created artificial self-assembling cell membranes using a novel chemical reaction. The chemists hope their creation will help shed light on the origins of life." The full paper is available in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (behind a paywall).

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54 comments

UCSD Bioeng (1, Interesting)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874783)

Neat. I used to work for the UCSD Bioengineering department. Many, many smart people worked there. Much more so than the San Diego Supercomputer Center during the tech boom (half the people they hired during that time period were people who'd read a "Learn Programming in 30 Days" book, or whatever, because anyone with any skills were going into industry).

It's always nice to see their work getting press.

Re:UCSD Bioeng (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875145)

Fuck artificial life forms, and fuck the origins of life. The part of this which is actually neat are the potential medical applications for prosthetics, tissue replacements, limb replacements, medicine delivery, genetic modification, etc. Artificial life forms and the origins of life are, quite frankly, Pipe Dreams.

Re:UCSD Bioeng (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875387)

>>fuck the origins of life

Indeed. Most life forms on Earth work this way!

Re:UCSD Bioeng (-1, Troll)

sirlark (1676276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875865)

So we're all motherfuckers?

Re:UCSD Bioeng (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875539)

The juxtaposition of your wannabe nigger rapper attitude and your nerding out over medical applications is rather amusing. What are you, 12?

Re:UCSD Bioeng (1, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878277)

Fuck artificial life forms

While no researchers will come out and say it, yeah, that's the idea. Building a sexbot is the motivation behind approximately 70% of the RO1 grants from the NIH.

Oh wait, I think I misinterpreted your post. Forget what I just said.

Re:UCSD Bioeng (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875661)

I thought you misspelled Boeing.

And now onto stage two.... (5, Funny)

Sneeze1066 (1574313) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874805)

....where researchers will attempt to insert "insane" into membrane.

Re:And now onto stage two.... (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874875)

....where researchers will attempt to insert "insane" into membrane.

No, that happens automatically, when some passing demon notices the soulless organism and decides to take up residency.

Then the screaming begins.

Re:And now onto stage two.... (2)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874971)

I think you need to make an appointment with your witch doctor, your bodily humors appear to be out of balance and I think a gnome is dancing on your spleen.

Re:And now onto stage two.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875377)

probably something to do with the funny bone

Re:And now onto stage two.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38874883)

If they do that, they "got no brains"...

Re:And now onto stage two.... (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874887)

....where researchers will attempt to insert "insane" into membrane.

That's easy: When they keep making them the same way, but expect different results.

Re:And now onto stage two.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876263)

It's funny to hear that quote applied to pretty much anything outside of a science experiment, but most things in life aren't that well controlled and different results each time are more of a norm than the same result every time. Too many variables change because they simply aren't under control. In fact, I'd say the reverse is more true: Insanity is trying to do the same thing over again and expecting identical results.

Re:And now onto stage two.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876453)

Well, this also sounds like counterfeiting. Did the cells signed the ACTA as well?

Re:And now onto stage two.... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878323)

Who you tryin to get crazy with, doctor? Don't you know I'm loco? [biomedcentral.com]

Re:And now onto stage two.... (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879801)

You have to be a mad scientist to do that

sigh... (4, Funny)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874863)

We're finally figuring out the origin of life, with less than a year left for us.

Re:sigh... (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874941)

It's okay. The people who study the end of the world and the people who study the beginning are mutually exclusive groups. No one of consequence will be smitten by Nibiru, only the true believers.

Re:sigh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875577)

Yes, I say this means we'll figure out the key to the origin of life on December 21st, and that will be what causes the end of everything. Don't you know the universe runs a check every few seconds to see if anyone has figured out the key to the origin of life? If it that condition ever comes up true, the universe resets. Unfortunately we'll never know how the 2012 crackpots knew we'd figure life out this year.

Re:sigh... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875699)

We're finally figuring out the origin of life, with less than a year left for us.

And thanks to the singularity in the speed of progress of scientific research, we may just make it in time for the big show.

LFS (0)

kamathln (1220102) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874927)

A few years ago LFY= Linux from scratch
Now LFY = Life from scratch

Re:LFS (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38874965)

We're still some ways off! So far we've got the ability to throw a new membrane and a chromosome at a pre-existing cell; there's still a ton of stuff that goes on in between. We still don't know exactly how a lot of it works; there are lots of little protein structures in bacterial cytoplasm that will take a lot of diligent study to figure out. Some day, though. Some day.

(Also, is it just me, or is S nowhere near Y on any keyboard layout ever?)

Re:LFS (2)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875077)

(Also, is it just me, or is S nowhere near Y on any keyboard layout ever?)

It is -- on German keyboard layouts [wikipedia.org] .

Sust yo sou know, just like the one I use. ;)

Re:LFS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875427)

Sust yo sou know, just like the one I use. ;)

That's cool. So how did S replace J?

Re:LFS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875839)

Same key, other hand?

Re:LFS (1)

Jappus (1177563) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876533)

It's a different key, just the same, poor, confused brain. :D

As always, one notices those things exactly the moment you have already hit "Submit".

Or, I could just say it ranges under the poetic freedom to misspell stuff for fun and profit. That works, too. :p

Re:LFS (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38877927)

Dammit! I thought it was just AZERTY when I glanced at it. Curse you!

Why? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875245)

I understand scientists do this to better understand the world we live in but why do you want to create life from scratch? We now have tools to manipulate existing cells to our whim. A cell wall is a very complex thing. The word "wall" is misleading. It is semi permeable and there are channels and pores that actively (uses ATP) pump nutrients in an out. There are enzymes, receptors, emitters and many other biomolecules that make up a cell wall. And this is only the cell wall. We haven't even talked about the DNA replication mechanisms, energy generation, organelles, organs etc. Creating a cell from scratch to a microbiologist/biochemist like me is for now like FTL travel to physicists. Nice to dream and speculate about but probably unfeasible.

Re:Why? (2)

FunkyLich (2533348) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876153)

I don't think that life from scratch and FTL are completely interchangeable as analogies for each other. FTL is very subtle and almost reasonable when one goes to prove it theoretically, but to what I know it has been shown to be a fallacy. Life from scratch on the other hand, is still possible in theory: basically some elements that come together to form more complicated compounds. There's a lot more to be known on the practical side: how exactly do these compounds form (aminoacids as part of starforming clouds maybe), how do they combine on the first place (is water needed as a catalyst? Does radiation play a role into the process, for good or for bad?) and many other things.
I think that research in trying to form life from scratch can actually tackle the same problems you have mentioned: DNA replication mechanisms, energy generation, organelles, etc. But the tunnel is now being dug from the other end: from the start and simplest and towards the more complicated. We have already made some progress while reducing the complicated. So why not try the other method as well? By definition, they must converge at some point, as part of one mechanism, one theory, the same thing.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876729)

any other things.
I think that research in trying to form life from scratch can actually tackle the same problems you have mentioned: DNA replication mechanisms, energy generation,...g.

"DNA Replication Mechanisms" reminded me of .. http://www.ted.com/talks/drew_berry_animations_of_unseeable_biology.html I guess you will like it :)

Re:Why? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878713)

Well, the scientific reason is as FunkyLich was sorta reaching for: if we can put together a cell from scratch, then we will be certain that we've accounted (and hopefully understood) all of the parts involved. The major reason, however, is commercially driven: if you can generate simple microbes abiotically, that opens the doors for a huge range of synthetic biology devices. And the associated profits.

Re:LFS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876801)

With life , I don't exactly mean life as complex and evolved as even single celled stuff. But still show signs of life. This vid shows exactly what I mean. At least we are at a stage where we can speculate on what is and is not Life.

And about LFY - My hands are more used to writing LFY than LFS . Where LFY = Linux For You , a magazine about Linux and related FOSS stuff in India (/Asia/other places?)

Re:LFS (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38877893)

Actually the challenge of deciding what is and isn't life is an ongoing mess; we haven't quite come to a universal agreement about some of the attributes. It's more of a definition issue than a chemistry one at this point, in fact! We've done a lot of experiments and discovered quite a few ways to kill a cell. :)

sarcastic comment about evolution (1)

Obble (1680532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38875053)

"The chemists hope their creation will help shed light on the origins of life"

<sarcastic>Warning, these people are not true scientists as they believe in intelligently design creation with their cell's membrane. </sarcastic>

meh, I got no karma points to burn.

Think of the possibilities... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38875069)

Soon everyone can have their very special "pet-creature" or whatever they like. Guess what the Japanese will create first.

ucsd (-1)

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fun, but... (2)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876095)

This is interesting chemistry, but has not got much to do with life or realistic cell membranes.

Re:fun, but... (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878465)

The suggestion, at least from the blurb, is that this may have been important to the origins of life. And how does it not have much to do with realistic cell membranes? You have a phospholipid bilayer with these things. That's the same thing as cell membranes basically, throw in some proteins (researchers have been adding proteins to artificial bilayers for decades) and you can get them to do exactly the same things that cell membranes do.

It's a bit like saying "This brick wall you've just made out of bricks and mortar is interesting, but it doesn't have a lot to do with realistic brick and mortar walls on houses."

Re:fun, but... (2)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878777)

I read the actual article and the authors have used a chemical reaction (that is not the same as the one used in nature), to make lipids (but not the actual ones that nature makes). Once they got the lipids the bilayer forms itself, but that is nothing new. The reaction is carried out in water, and the substrates are not reactive unless a catalyst is added, which leads them to claim that this is more "natural" than a standard chemical reaction. Using the word "life" or "nature" in this context is IMHO not appropriate.

Re:fun, but... (2)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879683)

Well, they say it is biomimetic. It's about as close as anybody ever gets. The important part is that the properties of the artificial membranes (at least the ones they measured) are the same as for the natural membranes they were trying to mimic. It's a JACS communication, so there isn't a lot of detail, but it looks like a pretty good model. There are a lot of potential uses, not the least of which is they can more easily study how additional components in the membrane (ex: proteins) affect its properties.

Re:fun, but... (1)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883715)

There are a lot of potential uses, not the least of which is they can more easily study how additional components in the membrane (ex: proteins) affect its properties.

To do that you can simply order or purify actual natural lipids. The research is not without merit but I doubt that it will help to study "natural" membranes. It may have other uses though.

Re:fun, but... (1)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883945)

No. In fact, they mention in the paper that is fairly difficult to do. Knowing something about the enzyme megacomplexes that catalyze these reactions, I believe them. Hence why they developed this system, and why it made it into JACS (click chemistry by itself is nothing new). Overall, the triazole would not be expected to drastically affect the properties of the membrane, which they affirm by measuring a handful of bulk properties. So I think it's a pretty good model.

Against. This will adversely affect mental health. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876403)

Insane in the membrane!

Pay attention, folks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876733)

The future is happening. Don't pay attention to the nostalgic space-age geeks who haven't outgrown their childish wonder at large fireworks, or the 3D printing nerds who think spending thousands of dollars for stuff you can get at the Dollar store is fun.

Both these groups will be steamrolled into irrelevance when biotech goes mainstream.

Let's see... Millionaires floating around in sub-orbital tin cans for 5 minutes, nerds printing out fragile plastic widgets, or the potential to cure every disease, prolong life and master the biological foundations of life itself? Hmmmm....

Re:Pay attention, folks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876819)

You make it sound like they're mutually exclusive - or incompatible.

I'll make you a deal: I'll be interested in the things that interest me, and you can be interested in what interests you.

Re:Pay attention, folks (1)

trongey (21550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876961)

I vote for the tin cans and plastic widgets. Curing every disease and prolonging life sound like really bad ideas. Surely even biotechs have seen that episode of Start Trek.

Re:Pay attention, folks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38878095)

"Curing every disease and prolonging life sound like really bad ideas"

You mean like we started doing in the first half of the 20th century?

Better stop asking for sterile operating rooms and antibiotics! You wouldn't want to be ... hypocritical, would you?

We should choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Re:Pay attention, folks (1)

trongey (21550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38883015)

Yeah, that stuff.
Actually, I'm on the fence about antibiotics. There are those claims that they drive selection for resistant strains, so there's some hope there.

Big deal. . . (2)

CrtxReavr (62039) | more than 2 years ago | (#38877479)

. . . we did this in high school Biology with hotdog casing.

Did anyone see the paper? (1)

spads (1095039) | more than 2 years ago | (#38878833)

What's this membrane they're talking about? A soap bubble is a membrane for godssakes.

"Click" chemistry (2)

Cinnamon Whirl (979637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879085)

Althought the paper manages not to mention it, the chemistry they are doing here is (the alkyne azide cyclisation) is part of "click" chemistry [wikipedia.org] , which is quite well known.

What the paper doesn't really say is whether they hope to accomplish anything further with this. As with all biomimetic reaction, it seems (to me) that synthesising a single step in the process may be intersting, without doing all the previous steps, is there any practical point?

Re:"Click" chemistry (1)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 2 years ago | (#38884277)

From the paper,

The minimal nature of our approach will likely lend itself to further elaboration, as we envision incorporating this system into a fully synthetic cell. We are also exploring practical applications of triazole membrane assembly, for instance in packaging and delivering therapeutics, improving transfection efficiencies, reconstituting functional membrane proteins, and performing confined biochemical reactions.

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