As part of a larger effort to understand fundamental rules of life, this project aims to make hybrid cells with living and artificial parts in order to ask how cellular organelles function together as modular units. Cells contain diverse organelles that play specific roles and interact with other functional units. By developing hybrids of living cells with synthetic parts (cyborgs), this project provides an innovative approach to understand modularity. Immediate goals are to develop artificial cytoskeletons to allow control of cell shape and organization upon command, offering insights into basic cellular processes. This project also examines societal impacts to inform the team's researchers and to help prepare public presentations to increase broader impacts. This work should spark public discussion on the role of hybrid organisms in society and will examine public concerns of producing something 'unnatural.' Additional impacts include training a highly interdisciplinary research team, with intensive mentoring in each group and across groups. The topic will engage the public and provide opportunity for numerous outreach projects and public events.
How cellular processes can be explained by modularity remains poorly understood, partly because of the lack of tools for manipulating whole organelles. The project focuses on developing two types of artificial cytoskeletons (synCyto) that can be introduced into living cells and controlled experimentally, based on: 1) Spirostomum myonemes and (2) Magnetic particles (Magnetic Robotic Swarms). The prediction is that these will form dynamic assemblages inside of cells that can be controllable experimentally through inputs such as light or magnetic fields to change cell shape and move other organelles. This work provides proof of principle towards developing hybrid cells with multiple synthetic organelles. Such synthetic organelles promise to provide prosthetic function to replace or augment native organelles, and have the potential to confer new and enhanced cellular functions.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.