Designing minimal cells with 3D bioprinting

PhD student Hiromune Eto, Prof. Dr. Petra Schwille and co-workers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry managed to make cell structures change shape by 3D-printing proteins on the microscale. Hiromune Eto: “3D bioprinting gives us clues as to why cells or organelles are shaped the way they are.”

Read the interview and watch a bioprinter at work

Tobias Erb on turning CO2 into valuable products

What if we could transform the harmful CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere into useful products? Using synthetic biology methods, Prof. Dr. Tobias Erb and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology have constructed an artificial CO2-fixation cycle. This discovery of synthetic photosynthesis could become a solution for turning CO2 into products such as pharmaceuticals or biofuels.

Watch the short video

Jean-Christophe Baret on making cells that produce new materials

What if we could get cells to produce materials for us? Microfluidics is the technology of controlling soft and biological matter at a small scale. Prof. Dr. Jean-Christophe Baret and his team at the CRPP institute in Bordeaux create chips to harness different functions in cells, like their ability to transform matter. In the coming years their research could lead to more sustainable solutions, for bioresources or waste management.

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The promise of synthetic cells

Charlotte Koster from the Dutch consortium BaSyC explains how building a synthetic cell from scratch can lead to biological solutions that will make industry more sustainable.

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Why the bottom-up approach to synthetic cells works

By exploring bottom-up synthetic biology, our scientific community will identify the most fundamental functions of a cell that may be assembled in a minimal production line of high-tech and 100% biological materials. The technological possibilities of this research are now at a tipping point and will lead to a revolution in medicine, food and sustainability in the next 5 to 20 years.

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We are a cutting-edge community of synthetic cell researchers and institutions as well as world-leading companies. The Synthetic Cell Initiative, formed in 2017, intends to offer researchers, companies and policymakers a platform to combine efforts to build cells from their basic parts.

As a community we are committed to:

  • Exploring how life works, by assembling cell parts from the bottom-up: building a functioning cell is one of the grand scientific and intellectual challenges of the 21st century.
  • Enabling the technological application of synthetic cell research: if we can figure out how cells works, we can imitate what they do in order to create nature-based applications and contribute to a circular economy.
  • Encouraging discussion on ethical and RRI aspects of synthetic cell research and technology.

Building a functioning cell is one of the grand scientific challenges of the 21st century. Imagine if we could find the answer to the question: “How does life work?” And imagine that from that knowledge, we could build a material that is 100% reusable, or that can heal itself when damaged.

Our community is composed of researchers that are world-leading chemists, physicists and biologists working on specific aspects and functions of the cell. The aim of this community is to bring this range of expertise together, allowing us to harness the power of biology in completely new ways.

Download our leaflet of the Synthetic Cell Initiative HERE.

Building a synthetic cell and the fundamental insights that come with it, will have impact beyond scientific discoveries, influencing a broad range of industries in the areas of health, food and biobased materials. This may lead to:

  • Drugs that are able to target specific locations and tissues in the body
  • Patient‐tailored treatments in personal medicine (a.o. for cancer)
  • New applications in drug delivery systems
  • Novel screening methods for antibiotics and drugs, biosensors and against antimicrobial resistance
  • New, smart and environment‐friendlier materials for high‐tech industry
  • New biofuels and biodegradable polymers
  • Facilitation of sustainable production of safe and healthy food
  • New materials for food biotechnology
  • New methods for pathogen control

Pharmaceuticals, food, nutrition, self-healing materials, bioplastics and sustainable fuels are a few examples of applications that come from the research field of building synthetic cells. The interest of companies will grow even more as the reality of a synthetic cell comes closer.

The path towards a synthetic cell involves the development of numerous methods and tools with important spin-off possibilities in the form of test beds for synthetic biology applications, advanced drug delivery systems, drug-screening methods, and bionanodevices for multiplex detection of molecules.

Want to get involved with the Synthetic Cell initiative? Get in touch with us!

In recent years tremendous progress has been made in the quest for synthetic cells. The United States and Europe are currently major players in this field. Our knowledge on how to build synthetic cells from their basic parts is now at a tipping point: bringing all this knowledge together will lead to revolutionary new technologies.

Close collaboration of synthetic cell scientists with governments and industry is essential: in the next 5 – 20 years this scientific field has the potential to take on global challenges in health, food and sustainability.

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What people say about this initiative

Many of the greatest scientific achievements have been sparked by fundamental research. This initiative is probably as fundamental as research in the life sciences can possibly be - it concerns the very transition from chemistry into biology. And still its implications reach far into biomedicine.

Petra Schwille

European researchers take a global lead in the concerted, multinational effort across the physical and biological sciences that is required to build a synthetic cell.

Wilhelm Huck - Radboud University

At the fundamental level, the proposed research allows us to understand what we mean by alive or dead, and explore the fascinating territory between these two states. From the practical viewpoint, research in this area will lead to synthetic cells and tissues that can be used in medical applications. These materials will be safe and inexpensive.

Hagan Bayley - University of Oxford

The construction of a synthetic cell will give unprecedented insight in the “laws of life”, and, ultimately, it will allow us to engineer different forms of life to address the grand challenges of Europe.

Bert Poolman - University of Groningen

Advances in the life sciences and in physics have converged on a detailed understanding of the component parts of life. At the same time, chemistry has come to a point where (supra)molecular systems can be synthesized that can mimic key functions of biomolecules, such as self-recognition and mechanochemical activity.

Gijsje Koenderink - Amolf & VU Amsterdam