Cell membranes play critical roles as gatekeepers of the cell, their selective permeability shielding the intracellular components from the extracellular environment. Involved in functions such as cell signaling, ion conductivity, and cell adhesion, these biological membranes have evolved since the beginning of time. But will they continue to evolve? Will new proteins be introduced into the membrane to perform entirely new functions?
Yes. In fact, with a new chip-based method for churning out cell membranes, we will be able to reconstitute cellular systems in vivo in a controlled way.
Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida have developed a way to synthesize uniformly sized cell membranes using a microfluidic device. Using a Y-shaped channel, water droplets are pushed through an oil-water interface to get coated in another lipid layer to form the bilayer membrane.
These synthetic membranes allow scientists to house a single gene as well as the other biochemical components for synthesizing membrane proteins. The vesicles are between 20-70 micrometers in diameter and are large enough to be loaded with plasmid DNA and other biochemical machinery to act as synthetic cells.
To read the full article, click on the following link: “Making Cells on an Assembly Line,” Technology Review, Corinna Wu, 23March2011.