Synthetic cell research and potential applications

Synthetic cell research


‘A cell is the basic unit of life as we know it. It is the smallest unit capable of independent reproduction.’ – British Society for Cell Biology 

Synthetic cell research, also known as bottom-up synthetic biology, aims to understand how cells work by trying to reproduce their molecular mechanisms, with the ultimate ambition of building functional cell mimics from scratch. These synthetic cells will have the ability to perform at least three of the main functions of living cells: metabolism, DNA processing, and division.

By trying to reproduce cellular mechanisms, scientists are seeking to understand how cells work and, more broadly, to answer the question of what life is. In addition to these fundamental goals, synthetic cell research is key to developing greener, nature-inspired technologies that can contribute to a healthier, greener future.

Building a synthetic cell - video from the BaSyC research programme, made by SCIXEL
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"Nature is our next technology"

By trying to reproduce cellular mechanisms, scientists are seeking to understand how cells work and, more broadly, to answer the question of what life is. In addition to these fundamental goals, synthetic cell research is key to developing greener, nature-inspired technologies that can contribute to a healthier, greener future.

Scientific and societal benefits


Bottom-up synthetic biology is a very promising field. The path to creating a synthetic cell involves the development of many methods and tools that can be used for broader applications and can benefit society. These technologies that are being developed along the way offer opportunities in many areas such as advanced drug delivery systems, drug screening methods, and bionanodevices for multiplex detection of molecules.

In addition, the bottom-up assembly of synthetic cells provides a better understanding of the processes and limits of life. These insights promise to impact a wide range of industries and contribute to the development of new sustainable innovations, based on mimicking the natural processes of cells:

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Health

  • Drugs that are able to target specific locations and tissues in the body
  • Patient-tailored treatments (especially for cancer)
  • New applications in drug delivery systems
  • Novel screening methods for antibiotics and drugs, biosensors and against antimicrobial resistance
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Materials

  • Smart and environmentally‐friendly materials for high‐tech industry (100% reusable, capable of self-repair)
  • Biodegradable polymers and plastics
  • Sustainable chemicals
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Energy/Environment

  • Biofuels and other compounds produced by synthetic cells
  • Zero waste production methods
  • Artificial photosynthesis to capture and store carbon dioxide
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Food

  • Facilitation of sustainable production of safe and healthy food
  • New materials for food biotechnology
  • New methods for pathogen control