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April 6, 2009
Volume 87, Number 14 | p. 26 | First appeared online April 3

Improved Replicating Synthetic Membranes

Scientists have devised vesicles with multilayer lipid membranes that grow and divide—an improved model for creating artificial cells

Carmen Drahl

Video

Ersatz Membranes

Adding more fatty acid to Zhu and Szostak's lipid membrane container triggers a dramatic transformation, as captured by an epifluorescence microscope. The container changes from a sphere to a threadlike compartment. Gentle agitation from puffs of air helps the "thread" break into daughter spheres.

J. Am. Chem. Soc. * Macromedia Flash Player 8 is required to view video.

In another step toward creating artificial life, researchers have made spherical compartments with synthetic membranes that grow and divide in a coupled process (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja900919c). Lab-made cells require a self-replicating lipid membrane, but current synthetic membranes must be forced through small pores to divide. What's more, the artificial cells tend to leak a sizable portion of their precious contents while dividing. Ting F. Zhu and Jack W. Szostak of Massachusetts General Hospital have improved upon those systems by encapsulating RNA inside a membrane consisting of multiple bilayers, instead of the single bilayer used in previous synthetic cell membranes. The new membranes grow in a surprising way, Szostak says. Rather than growing into larger spheres, they morph into long, threadlike structures. Gentle agitation of the threads couples their growth to a division process that leads to daughter spheres—with only a trace of RNA leakage. The model membranes undergo multiple cycles of growth and division, and the process works with a range of lipid components. The team's next goal is to encapsulate self-replicating nucleic acids inside this type of membrane, Szostak says.

Ersatz Membranes

Adding more fatty acid to Zhu and Szostak's lipid membrane container triggers a dramatic transformation, as captured by an epifluorescence microscope. The container changes from a sphere to a threadlike compartment. Gentle agitation from puffs of air helps the "thread" break into daughter spheres.

J. Am. Chem. Soc.

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ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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