Kerstin Göpfrich on building synthetic cells using DNA and RNA origami

“We have the freedom to be creative”

Kerstin Göpfrich is a professor at the Center for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH) in Germany and Group Leader of the Max Planck Research Group “Biophysical Engineering of Life” at the MPI for Medical Research. For her, life as we know it is defined by its functions (such as the ability to react to its environment and to reproduce) and not by the elements that make it up. This is why she and her team are seeking to build functional synthetic cells using different tools and materials to those found in living cells.

In cells, proteins, which are complex molecules, perform all the functions necessary for life. They are made by the cell using information encoded in its DNA by the processes of transcription and translation. Kerstin frees herself from the need to use proteins by making what she calls her own “molecular hardware”, i.e. devices and machinery that are not proteins but which enable synthetic cells to carry out their functions.

In the video below, she tells us more about DNA origami, one of the methods she uses to create molecular hardware for synthetic cells.

Note: in the video, Kerstin mentions osmolarity sensors. These are sensors that measure the number of particles in a solution. Osmolarity, for example, is measured in blood or urine to monitor disease.

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