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Life (Basel). 2015 Mar 25;5(2):1019-53. doi: 10.3390/life5021019.

Engineering protocells: prospects for self-assembly and nanoscale production-lines.

Author information

1
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia. dmiller@wehi.edu.au.
2
Department of Medical Biology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia. dmiller@wehi.edu.au.
3
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia. jgulbis@wehi.edu.au.
4
Department of Medical Biology, The University of Melbourne, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia. jgulbis@wehi.edu.au.

Abstract

The increasing ease of producing nucleic acids and proteins to specification offers potential for design and fabrication of artificial synthetic "organisms" with a myriad of possible capabilities. The prospects for these synthetic organisms are significant, with potential applications in diverse fields including synthesis of pharmaceuticals, sources of renewable fuel and environmental cleanup. Until now, artificial cell technology has been largely restricted to the modification and metabolic engineering of living unicellular organisms. This review discusses emerging possibilities for developing synthetic protocell "machines" assembled entirely from individual biological components. We describe a host of recent technological advances that could potentially be harnessed in design and construction of synthetic protocells, some of which have already been utilized toward these ends. More elaborate designs include options for building self-assembling machines by incorporating cellular transport and assembly machinery. We also discuss production in miniature, using microfluidic production lines. While there are still many unknowns in the design, engineering and optimization of protocells, current technologies are now tantalizingly close to the capabilities required to build the first prototype protocells with potential real-world applications.

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