Skip to main content

Artificial Cells with Distributed Cores to Decipher Protein Function

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ACDC (Artificial Cells with Distributed Cores to Decipher Protein Function)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-01-31

We envision a future where ‘chemical apps’ on mobile devices produce on demand valuable compounds for health and performance as well as apps for bioagent threat detection and disease. To take concrete and defined steps toward this future vision, we will exploit the miniaturization provided by lab on a chip technology and construct responsive architectures and metabolism based on living cells and tissues. We will build programmable and re-configurable, (bio)chemical processes, with precision, order, and as hierarchical cellular constructs, in the same way as living systems. We will enable microscale, liquid-based, chemical compartmentalisation (cores), and inter-compartmental (core-core) communication, just as one finds in organelles, cells and tissues. The ACDC project focusses on developing this next generation technology through a detailed workplan that heavily involves the nontrivial tasks of integrating diverse state of the art technologies including microfluidics, microwave resonators, DNA-based supramolecular assembly, in vitro gene expression and the integration of membrane channels into a functional platform.

The overall objective of the ACDC project is to manufacture compartmentalised, liquid-based chemistries, as discrete, yet interactive and multifunctional cores, within micro-scale containment capsules as communicating micro-laboratories. To achieve the ambition of the project, we have 8 overall objectives.

Objective 1. Produce multifunctional cores and containment capsules through use of 2D/3D printed, multiphase microfluidics.
Objective 2. Demonstrate core-core and core-environment communication together with energy harvesting.
Objective 3. Produce reconfigurable capsules based on DNA barcoding.
Objective 4. Build a compiler that translates formally described instances of chemical processes into a ACDC design.
Objective 5. Test our ACDC technology using small molecule library screening on targeted membrane proteins.
Objective 6. Evaluate ACDC emergent technologies and results for potential intellectual property for exploitation.
Objective 7. Execute targeted dissemination activities to public and stakeholders to enliven ACDC aims and Living Technologies in general
Objective 8. Generate a discussion about the societal and ethical impact of the technologies developed in ACDC and in Living Technologies in general.
The following summarizes activities during the first year of the project, organized by the ACDC Objectives.

Objective 1. Produce multifunctional cores and containment capsules through use of 2D/3D printed, multiphase microfluidics.

Most of the tasks directed towards this objective has been started in the first year of the project. Core and capsules were produced using standard laboratory tools as well as custom 2D/3D printed fluidic devices.


Objective 2. Demonstrate core-core and core-environment communication together with energy harvesting.


Much of the experimental work towards this objective has been started in the first year of the project. The first prototypical demonstration of core – core communication through cargo-free membrane mediated information transfer was preformed. In addition essential software was developed.

Objective 3. Produce reconfigurable capsules based on DNA barcoding.

The DNA barcoding and labeling of capsules has been established in the first year of the project. Essential modeling software has also been developed.

Objective 4. Build a compiler that translates formally described instances of chemical processes into an ACDC design.

Much of the computational aspects of ACDC have been started in the first year of the project, producing a finalized a first version of the chemical compiler.

Objective 5. Test our ACDC technology using small molecule library screening on targeted membrane proteins.
The ACDC technology is still being set up before any productive screening can take place. Many of the necessary genetic elements have been identified and constructed. A 3D simulator has also been designed and constructed.

Objective 6. Evaluate ACDC emergent technologies and results for potential intellectual property for exploitation.
ACDC organized and hosted a workshop for all ACDC participants on intellectual property with external experts. The intellectual property issues of the project were evaluated internally periodically.

Objective 7. Execute targeted dissemination activities to public and stakeholders to enliven ACDC aims and Living Technologies in general
Although much of the dissemination activities are scheduled to start after the first year of the project, We organized in October 2019 the first Open Talk entitled “The future of chemical apps”. Researchers from UNITN illustrated to the public and makers the potential of synthetic chemical systems based on the properties of living systems.CARDIFF provided samples of ACDC capsules and video materials for the open talk. ZHAW produced a number of papers that have been published and the ACDC project has been presented at various meetings. ELVESYS produced ACDC promotional fliers for conferences. EXPLORA developed an ACDC collection in the Doulix repository that is FAIR complaint and also an advanced bulk sequence editor.

Objective 8. Generate a discussion about the societal and ethical impact of the technologies developed in ACDC and in Living Technologies in general.
Much of this objective is scheduled to be activated after the first year of the project. We have assembled two experts that will advise us and challenge us on both societal and future impact, as well as ethical impact.
We have achieved progress beyond the state of the art with regard to several areas. 1. 3D printed fluidics, 2. reconfigurable systems, 3. chemical compiling. We are developing these new results which will eventually result in public access reports, publications, presentations, and public forum discussions. We expect scientific impact in the areas of soft-matter physics, complex systems, and custom small scale manufacturing. Given that this is only the first year of the project, there are many technical goals of the project yet to fulfill before socio-economic impacts can be realistically addressed. However given the progress so far along all research lines in the ACDC project, we fully expect to generate the technology and knowledge towards producing chemical apps for public use and distribution for user-defined on-demand needs.
ACDC core simulation
ACDC core assembly within capsules
ACDC capsule assembly