Biology

Artificial Cells and Tissues by Chemistry
Shin-ichiro M. NOMURA, Tohoku University

At this session we will discuss issues which have drawn much attention in recent years: artificial cells and artificial tissue. Artificial cell researches in the scientific view, and artificial tissue in the aspect of applied engineering, but what they have in common is that both are attempts to contribute to the happiness of the human race.

Cells are the building blocks of life, and are sometimes called the ultimate molecular machine system. The project of artificially creating cells is intimately connected to the verification of the origin of life. It is also closely related to the desire to know more about the existing cell mechanisms of which we ourselves are constructed. Attempts to extract the special functions of cells (gene replication, protein synthesis, expression control, metabolism, division etc.) at the molecular level, recreate their behavior, and identify their mechanisms have made rapid progress along with biochemistry and molecular biology from the 1940s on. These are called in vitro reconstitution experiments, and through coordinating all their results, attempts to reconstitute cells are also progressing. In Japan, the Society for Cell Synthesis Research was founded in 2005, and work is proceeding in this field year by year. Elsewhere there is the approach of evaluating the phenomena of life expressed from a minimum of genome information, in a context where the genome sequence of each biological organism has now been read and is becoming usable. Synthetic biology, first developed at an MIT research group, is expanding worldwide along the lines of providing common standard genetic parts. Therein the J. C. Venter Institute has synthesized the full-length of the mycoplasma genome, transplanted it into bacteria and succeeded in making it take over the original. This is surely a milestone with regard to artificial cells. Technological challenges to learn more about the most basic unit of life are continuing, and significant issues from now on may include the reproduction of the self-replication system and the mutual cooperation of subcellular organelles.

And what of artificial tissue? With regard to human hard tissue, there are numerous examples of practical use such as the highly biocompatible artificial teeth and artificial bones. Soft tissue such as skin, blood vessels, and nerves, however, must exchange materials actively to other parts of the organism. If simply lining up cultured cells in the shape of the target tissue, it should cause problems for transplant ease and post-operative safety. Research in this area is progressing with regard to replacing extracellular matrices, naturally made of collagen, with artificial materials such as synthetic macromolecules and thus nurturing the cell tissue. Results include so-called cell sheet engineering, applied in Japan as well for heart patches and cataract surgery among other uses. In order to suppress the rejection response arising from recognition of foreign matter, the use of highly biocompatible materials is desirable. There is still a long way to shape tissue at will and make it function at the organ level. In particular, it is an urgent task that the development of a method of creating and introducing new blood vessels in order to distribute nutrition through the tissue.
During this session, up-and-coming researchers from Japan and the United States will discuss the latest information and future issues regarding artificial cells and artificial tissue.

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Biology

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