Artificial Cells in PACE

PACE's approach to artificial cells is bottom up and based on novel chemistry complemented by electronic microfluidic systems. PACE has concentrated on moving towards artifiical cells by establishing an IT interface to novel cell scale chemistry using the omega machinemicroscale complementation and electronic genomes.

Complete artificial cells in PACE are self-reproducing and capable of evolution, they are self-containing thereby posessing individual identity from their environment and they are self-sustaining in that they can maintain their complex structure utilizing simpler environmental resources (such as energy and chemical building blocks).

The two primary artificial cell chemistries being developed in PACE start with artificial molecules, PNA, thioDNA and catalipids, which can play a functional role in two or more of these three key cell functions. Combinatorial optimization of the systems chemistry of these molecules together with other non-biochemical additives towards full artificial cell functionality is being assisted in PACE by programmable microfluidic complementation and the evolutionary optimization of experimental protocols.

Artificial chemical cells are very different from biological cells: their chemical complexity is not dictated by the protein translation apparatus as in all natural cells, where 100s of complex proteins are required, even in "minimal cells". They are potentially much smaller, much more flexible to alternative chemical integration and application, and independent of their biological counterparts. Their realization depends not on recombinant genetic engineering technology, but rather on complex systems theory, chemical systems engineering, programmable interfaces and physical-chemical feedback and control systems technology. With them we will acquire the ability to organize the construction of complex material systems from the bottom up, while creating a better understanding of how biological cells have achieved this. Their distinctiveness from natural cells, while making them less informative about the origin of life, widens the scope of synthetic possibilities and can provide insight into alternative synthetic paths to life from inanimate chemical systems that may once have existed. Above all, opening the doors to the full chemical arsenal, allows applications to IT where non-biological criteria of stability or compatibility or deployment play a major role.

PACE is also investigating how such artificial cells can be invested with additional information-rich properties, allowing their self-organization and functional utilization for nanoscale information processing and complexity management.

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