Manipulating and programming cells and understanding their intrinsic complexity is challenging as cells are often difficult to decode and manipulate.
My research involves the creation of artificial cell-like systems
(protocells) from scratch by using synthetic or hybrid molecular building blocks[1,2,3], which are fully controllable by design and mimic the fundamental structure[2,4,5] or mechanisms[4,6] of natural cells. This multidisciplinary endeavour aims to create a broad range of products for functional applications and, at the same time, an increased understanding of biological systems and mechanisms.
Among all the cellular processes and mechanisms, one of the most exciting open challenges in chemical engineering is the development of artificial cell-like systems capable of autonomous and directional motion in response to their environment and adapt to its changes.
Realising an artificial motile life-like system, controlling its motion and understanding its spatiotemporal organisation mimicking the biological communication will actively advance our understanding of the origin of life and push the boundaries of scientific discovery.
Engineering well-defined bespoke artificial cells from scratch that exhibit autonomous and directional motion in response to their environment, will pave the way for the application of artificial motile protocells in clinical and industrial settings. This opens up an entirely new research area with long-term ramifications and potential applications, for example, including: (i) artificial-cell devices that are powered by biocompatible and biological compounds;
(ii) Intelligent and active delivery of therapeutics directly to a specific target site; (iii) artificial cells swimming to specific sites that require bioremediation; (iv) Controlled spatiotemporal self-organisation of motile artificial cells for the generation of artificial tissues and materials.
REFERENCES. 1. Contini, C. et al. J. of Polymer Sci. 1, (2021),
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24989-7 ; 2. Contini, C. et al.
iScience 7, 132–144, (2018) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2018.08.018
; 3. Walczak M. et al. Nature Communications 12, 47433, (2021)
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24989-7 ; 4. Contini, C. et al.
Sci. Adv. 3, e1700362 (2017) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700362 ; 5.
Robertson, J. D. et al. Scientific Reports 6, (2016) DOI:
10.1038/srep27494 ; 6. Zhang S, C.Contini et al. Nature Communications, 12, 1673 (2021) https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21832-x.