Project 217356 Building and directing life
Hosting research group: Dr. T. F. A. de Greef1, Dr. C. Storm1, Dr. Hyun Youk2, Prof. Dr. J.C. van Hest1, Prof. Dr. E. W. Meijer1.
1 Eindhoven University of Technology, Institute for Complex Molecular Systems
2 Delft University of Technology, Department of Bionanoscience

Artificial cell populations with reciprocal cellular communication skills

Cell-cell communication is a universal phenomenon in biology, ranging from bacterial quorum sensing to endocrine signaling in multicellular eukaryotes. While for simpler organisms, like bacteria, some of the design principles relating cellular cross-talk to function have been established, the complexity of cellular communication in higher organisms has hampered our general understanding of this important principle.

To begin to grasp the complexities of cell-cell communication we must control the flow of information. Simplified chemical model systems composed of artificial cells that communicate via well-defined chemical messengers can help to isolate key molecular parameters and thus have the potential to uncover generalizable concepts. Because the complexity of artificial cells is much reduced, full control over variables can be maintained, making artificial cells easier to study, design and control. In addition, this bottom-up approach has the advantage that non-biological building blocks can be incorporated.

Significant progress in artificial cellular communication has been made in recent years, yet almost all reported systems to date are single channel: A single type of chemical messenger is used, greatly limiting the amount of information that can be transferred. To more closely mimic biological systems, we will design and engineer heterogeneous populations of artificial cells capable of multichannel communication, using an array of diffusible factors that include small-molecules and single-stranded DNAs.

In Eindhoven and Delft, the Origins Center Fellow in charge will operate at the heart of a multidisciplinary team consisting of researchers with diverse backgrounds in supramolecular chemistry, biochemistry, micro-engineering and quantitative biology. The project is foreseen to have significant synergy with WP2 addressing the evolution of interacting, adaptive populations.

To demonstrate proof-of-concept, we aim to develop the first example of artificial cellular communication platform by having a chemical messenger from one artificial cell population induce the growth of an artificial cytoskeleton in a second population. Beyond this first ambition, cell populations with controlled information response and exchange represent a versatile tool to study the basic principles of biological complexity and biological information flows.

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