Artificial cells capable of making their own ENERGY by harvesting the sun’s rays are created in the lab
- Artificial cells capable of photosynthesis have been created by scientists
- They have made two essential chemicals which make it possible in the cells
- Both are needed to turn light into energy and use this to make parts of the cell
- Could allow scientists to discover how real cells work and understand their origin and evolutionary history
Artificial cells have been created in a lab which can photosynthesise and make energy in the same way as plants.
The breakthrough could let scientists discover the details of how real cells work as well as their origins and evolutionary history.
This is not the first time that experts have tried to recreate the energy generation system that nature created over millions of years.
The latest attempts are more authentic and lifelike than previous trials, however, and use the same pathways to make the chemicals as those found in plant cells.
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In the light,the artificial cells were activated and photosynthesises (green, left) and in the dark lay dormant (red, right). The ability to make artificial cells could allow scientists to discover how real cells work and understand their origin and evolutionary history
Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan made simple cells that produce chemical energy which is then used to make more parts of the cells themselves.
It has long been a goal of researchers to build artificial cells that are able to make their own constituents parts but this has eluded them – until now.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, focused specifically on the membranes of the cells as they hold the key to the project.
‘Our artificial photosynthetic cell system paves the way to construct an energetically independent artificial cell,’ write the researchers.
Chemicals were taken from real cells and various layers were made to create two essential chemicals: ATP synthase and bacteriorhodopsin.
ATP synthase is an enzyme responsible for creating ATP, the chemical which is known as the ‘currency of the cell’ and is essential for making energy.
Bacteriorhodopsin comes from ancient microbes and is excellent at harvesting light and forces charged particles – hydrogen ions – out of the cell.
This creates a difference in charge across the cell membrane and allows the ATP synthase to function properly.
They work in tandem and one is rendered ineffective without the other and both are needed to complete the process of turning light into energy and using this energy to make parts of the cell.
Researchers found this worked efficiently and mimicked authentic cells.
It converted DNA, which is found in all cells, and converted it into a similar chemical called messenger RNA which is similar but easier to manipulate than its double-helix cousin.
Chemicals were taken from real cells and various layers were made to create chemicals called ATP synthase and bacteriorhodopsin. They work in tandem and one is rendered ineffective without the other ad both are needed to complete the process of turning light into energy and using this energy to make parts of the cell
Known as mRNA, it holds the blueprint for making proteins which are essential for growth and life.
These were successfully read and proteins were being created inside the artificial cells.
Researchers found that artificial cells were unable to make the full range of proteins but say future studies may be able to manage this.
‘I have been trying for a long time to construct a living artificial cell, especially focusing on membranes,’ says lead researcher Yutetsu Kuruma.
‘In this work, our artificial cells were wrapped in lipid membranes, and small membrane structures were encapsulated inside them.
‘In this way, the cell membrane is the most important aspect of forming a cell.’
HOW CAN SCIENTISTS TURN SUNLIGHT INTO FUEL?
Scientists have developed a way to transform sunlight into fuel that could lead to an ‘unlimited source of renewable energy’.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have done this by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.
They did this through using a technique called semi-artificial photosynthesis that is based on the same process plants use to convert sunlight into energy.
Artificial photosynthesis has been around for decades but it has not yet been successfully used to create renewable energy.
This is because it relies on the use of catalysts, which are often expensive and toxic.
Researchers used natural sunlight to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen using a mixture of biological components and manmade technologies.
Researchers reactivated a process in algae that has been dormant for millennia.
They did this using hydrogenase, an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen.
‘During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen’, said Katarzyna Sokół, first author and PhD student at St John’s College.
Ms Sokół hopes the findings will enable new innovative model systems for solar energy conversion to be developed.