Cells at Work
No mitochondria, but still a powerhouse.
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The lives of cells are remarkably simple and complex at the same time.
Each of the trillions of cells in your body completes pretty much the same programmed tasks all day.
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But it’s also really hard to create artificial, microscopic cells that can do the same things as living ones. This is because of their complex, acutely balanced ecosystems.
They described their creation in a September 8 report in the journal Nature.
Sacanna Lab, NYU
Other cell models have made headlines in recent years, but what makes this one unique is its ability to pump materials in and out of the cell — a process called active transport.
Mitochondria, the powerhouse of living cells, makes a chemical called ATP. That energy gives the cell the ability to move molecules in and out of the cell during active transport.
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But in this synthetic model, light-sensitive chemicals react to their surroundings and can either push or pull particles through a small hole in the artificial membrane.
Here’s what it looks like when the model cell reacts to light:
The researchers tested these artificial models in water, where they sucked up microscopic particles.
This could potentially be a way to clean out pollutants from lakes, rivers, or drinking water.
“Think of the cell [models] like the PAC-MAN video game — they go around eating the pollutants and removing them from the environment.”
Stefano Sacanna, lead author and professor of chemistry at New York University
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The synthetic models could also help clean bacteria from the body or deliver drugs to certain areas — thanks, in part, to their uncanny resemblance to real ones.
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