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A DNA NANOtechology toolkit for artificial CELL design

Project description

Artificial cell creation via DNA nanotechnology

A fundamental challenge when creating an artificial cell by synthetic biology is the poor control of replication machinery borrowed from living cells. DNA nanotechnology enables a bottom-up approach for the truly novel design of nanoscale objects through well controlled programmable processes. This EU-funded project will establish a fully integrated platform based on DNA nanotechnology to create a functional artificial cell with the design of DNA-based objects mimicking cellular organelles performing specific functions. These artificial organelles will have capability for self-assembly followed by encapsulation into lipid bilayers compartments resulting in the formation of artificial cells with specific functional characteristics. Applications abound in biosensing and smart therapeutics.


Bottom-up synthetic biology aims to artificially replicate the emerging behaviours of cellular life but struggles to do so without relying on poorly controllable machinery borrowed from biological cells.
DNA nanotechnology enables ab-initio design of nanoscale objects with fully programmable structure and dynamic response, making them ideal to mimic the complex functionalities of biological machinery in a truly bottom-up fashion.

NANOCELL will establish a fully modular and integrated platform that utilises DNA nanotechnology to prescribe structure and functionality of artificial cells.

I will design a library of micron-scale DNA-based objects that mimic cell organelles in their ability to perform specific tasks in response to chemical and environmental stimuli including signal detection and amplification, the capture and release of cargoes, and the construction of structural elements.
These “membrane-less organelles” will self-assemble from a new class of amphiphilic DNA building blocks I recently introduced, which enable unprecedented control over the morphology and response of nanostructured frameworks.
Interaction between organelles will lead to the emergence of collective effects, and their encapsulation in lipid-bilayer compartments will enable the modular construction of artificial cells displaying a range of complex behaviours such as remote communication, dynamic adaptation, and spatiotemporal patterning in multicellular systems.

NANOCELL will consist of three Work Packages reflecting its hierarchical approach:
WP1: Mapping the self-assembly behaviour of amphiphilic DNA nanostructures.
WP2: Embedding different functionalities in amphiphilic DNA frameworks to produce artificial organelles.
WP3: Creating artificial cells by encapsulating DNA organelles in compartmentalised systems.

The full programmability afforded by NANOCELL will ultimately unlock long-awaited applications of artificial cells, spanning from biosensing to smart therapeutics.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 887 487,65
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom

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East of England East Anglia Cambridgeshire CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 887 487,65

Beneficiaries (2)