The Future of Life: Synthetic Living Cells?

September 3, 2020 2:30 - 4:00


All organisms currently living on Earth, from bacteria to humans, are composed of cells that have originated from pre-existing cells through cell division processes. However, we do not know how the first living cells were born from non-living matter. Modern biology has led to an unprecedented understanding of cellular function, and today we have reached the point at which scientists can engineer cells by the addition or removal of functional elements, and are even investigating assembling synthetic cells from non-living materials. In this session, three renowned scientists, funded by the European Research Council, will present the latest developments in the field of synthetic cells, and discuss the potential for synthetic cellular life and its applications in biomedicine and industry. The speakers will discuss three different approaches to synthetic cells: ‘minimal’ cells, ‘protocells’ and ‘artificial’ cells. A ‘minimal’ cell is derived from a pre-existing living cell by stripping it down to its minimum essential components, an approach that has been used in bacteria to reduce the genome to a minimal gene set compatible with life. In contrast to minimal cells, protocells and artificial cells involve creating living cells from non-living constituents. To understand the origin of life on Earth, researchers are trying to synthesise protocells, a forerunner to the formation of the first living cells, from components that plausibly existed on prebiotic Earth. Artificial cells need not resemble living cells as we know them and there are, thus, no constraints on the materials from which they can be assembled; they could be entirely man-made assemblies from non-living matter that incorporate the functional modules necessary for the cells to be viable.

Organized by: European Research Council

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