Previously, chemists have managed to create artificial cell walls and developed synthetic DNA to produce self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cells. Now, for the first time, researchers have used polymers to produce an artificial eukaryotic cell capable of undertaking multiple chemical reactions through working organelles.

Eukaryotic cells are the building blocks for complex life-forms like plants and animals. The main distinction between the simpler and more ancient prokaryotic cells and eukaryotes is the presence of organelles in the latter. Organelles are specialized subunits within a cell that have a specific function, and which allow cells to undertake multiple chemical processes in an extremely small space.


More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.


This compartmentalization was one of the key features developed by nature during the early evolution of early life on Earth. It is also of interest to chemists as eukaryotic cells are capable of efficient chemistry at a very small scale, something which is difficult to replicate in the lab. That might be all about to change now chemists at Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands have built the world’s first eukaryotic cell using plastic.

“Competing groups are working closer to biology; making cells from fatty acids, for example. We would like to do the same in the future," says Professor Jan van Hest who created the organelles with his PhD candidate Ruud Peters. "Another step would be to make cells that produce their own energy supply."

The researchers used a water droplet as the structure upon which they built the polymer cell. To create the organelles, they produced tiny polystyrene-b-poly spheres filled with enzymes designed to undertake set chemical processes. These sub-micrometric nanoreactors were then encapsulated in a coating of a polymer called polybutadiene-b-poly polymersome using emulsion-centrifugation to form a cell wall.

This formed a compartmentalized structure resembling nature’s eukaryotic cell. Within this, a multistep chemical reaction was undertaken which resembled a natural enzyme pathway. Using fluorescence, van Hest and Peters were able to show a chain of chemical reactions within the cell, proof they had created a polymer cell with working organelles.

"We are also working on ways of controlling the movement of chemicals within the cell, towards organelles," says van Hest. "By simulating these things, we are able to better understand living cells. One day we will even be able to make something that looks very much like the real thing."

Their work was published in the journals Angewandte Chemie and highlighted inNature Chemistry.

Source: Radboud University Nijmegen