Metabolic Protocells as Minimalistic Life-Like Entities

Cells composed of complex machinery are an increasing source of motivation for scientists due to their unmatched ability to perform a chain of events, such as cell growth, division, adhesion, self-protection in a hostile environment, and establishing intercellular communication via streamlining spatiotemporally chemically-fuelled interwoven metabolic reactions and downstream signal transduction processes.

In the absence of complex biochemical machinery, the hypothetical or artificial predecessors to the first biological cells (protocells) would be reliant on the self-organization of their components and their emergent ability to adapt in physicochemical conditions of the environment, attaining a basic level of autonomy and evolutionary viability. 

Our research aims at re-enacting such fundamental principles to better understand the origin-of-life at later stages of evolution and make artifical life-life systems.

Dr. Avik Samanta (Humboldt Fellow) is the key player in this research field.

Selected References:

1. Ludwanowski, S., Samanta, Loescher, S., Barner-Kowollik, C., Walther, A. “A Modular Fluorescent Probe for Viscosity and Polarity Sensing in DNA Hybrid Mesostructures” Adv. Sci. 2003740 (2021).

2. Samanta, A., V. Sabatino, T. Ward, A. Walther. Functional and morphological adaptation in DNA protocells via signal processing prompted by artificial metalloenzymes Nat. Nanotechnol. 1856 (2020).

3. Deng, J., Walther, A. “Programmable ATP-Fueled DNA Coacervates by Transient Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation”, Chem 6, 3329 (2020).

4. Merindol, R.; Loescher, S.; Samanta, A.; Walther, A. “Pathway-Controlled Formation of Mesostructured all-DNA Microgels and their Superstructures” Nat. Nanotechnol., 13, 730 (2018). (Cover Article, highlighted in Mirkin et al. Nat. Nanotech. 13, 624)