Artificial Cells Built From Silicon

Alessia Andreotti
December 14th 2014

Researchers, at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, have engineered a silicon chip able to mimic some basic functions of life, such as producing proteins from DNA.

The chips were created using a technique developed several years ago to anchor DNA to silicon. The system allowed the scientists to create a simple network of interacting genes.

Scientists can already easily synthesize proteins from DNA in a test tube, but those reactions eventually fizzle out as proteins accumulate and synthesis slows. This new chip overcomes that problem by flushing away waste products and controls how fast the proteins manufactured in it are diffused to other areas of the chip, influencing other reactions.

The chip may eventually lead to applications in diagnostics, environmental sensing, or drug screening, with the twist that it could keep reactions going for a longer time. Scientists say the chips could be used to test new genetic constructs before they are put into actual cells, like bacteria.

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Should men be able to give birth to children?

Lisa Mandemaker: Using an artificial womb could lead to more equality between sexes, but also between different family layouts. If men would be able to give birth to children, it would maybe be easier for male same-sex couples to have a child together.

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