Special issue of ACS Synthetic Biology on synthetic cell research

|Cover of ACS Synthetic Biology – 15 March 2024 Volume 13, issue 3

At the beginning of March, ACS Synthetic Biology, a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to research in all areas of synthetic biology, published a special online issue on synthetic cell engineering and cell-free systems.

Although this issue is primarily aimed at the research community, it includes an editorial that gives a good overview of the field. It provides a better understanding of what drives researchers to assemble synthetic cells, their working areas, and where research is progressing.

We have summarised several of the points raised in the article below:

Why synthetic cell research?

Perhaps you’ve already wondered why a field of science focuses on the construction of what scientists call “synthetic cells”, i.e. cell-like structures built from scratch that possess some of the functionality of living cells.

Researchers use the assembly of these structures as a tool to understand the fundamental principles of life better, for example, to answer the question of how living systems are distinguished from non-living entities, and as a tool to exploit cellular functions in a wide range of applications.

What are researchers currently working on?

It can’t be said often enough: although cells are extremely small, they are also extremely complex, so many questions about their mechanisms, processes, and functions remain to be answered.

In this issue, ACS Synthetic Biology explores the progress of synthetic cell research in several areas:

  • the design of cell-free systems (which recapitulate the biological reactions of living cells) and methods for evaluating these systems and their synthetic cellular functions,
  • compartmentalisation (which plays an integral role in cells)
  • metabolism (the reactions that take place in cells to maintain life),
  • motility
  • applications, for example in the engineering of synthetic tissues
  • education and training: the University of Mexico, for example, shared its lessons learned from a new training course using available resources, such as Build-A-Cell webinars and Tedx Talks, to educate its students on the subject and get them to consider the ethical implications as well as the potential applications that could emerge from this research.

The editorial and all the articles in this special issue are available here.