Synthetic tissue transmits electrical signals, like neurons

| | April 6, 2016
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Researchers at the University of Oxford, U.K., have engineered a soft, tissue-like material, built from hundreds of DNA-containing synthetic cells, that can transmit an electrical signal, according to a study published in Science Advances. The expression of genes in each “cell”—a 3-D-printed water droplet surrounded by a single layer of lipids—is light-activated, giving the researchers precise control over the behavior of the material.

“It’s really beautiful work,” said Sheref Mansy, a biochemist who builds cells from scratch at the University of Trento, Italy, and was not involved in the research. “It’s fantastic to be able to show the ability to arrange these synthetic cells so precisely, with communication between the different droplets.”

Each lipid-encased droplet has a volume of 50 picoliters to 100 picoliters, and contains the simplest set of genes needed to make a transmembrane pore protein—a channel through which small molecules can pass—that spans the lipid bilayer formed between adjacent droplets. Synthesis of this protein is regulated by a light-activated DNA promoter, meaning that pores are only produced (and, therefore, electrical signals are only transmitted) when a droplet has been illuminated.

The hope is that such materials might one day be able to interact with—or even replace—living tissue. “For example, in nerve regeneration where there is spinal cord injury, it might be possible to bridge that gap initially with these artificial materials,” said study coauthor Hagan Bayley of Oxford.

Read full, original post: Next Generation: Toward Synthetic Neural Tissue

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