Artificial cell division a step closer to reality

The group of Christophe Danelon from TU Delft have succeeded in replicating a biological mechanism that is essential for cell division in bacteria in the lab. The research is an important step within a larger, ambitious project with the ultimate goal of creating a fully artificial cell that can sustain and divide itself. The researchers have published their findings in Nature Communications.

The group of Christophe Danelon at TU Delft has now succeeded in reproducing the Min-system in artificially created vesicles, so-called ‘liposomes’. All three proteins were directly expressed from their genes within such liposomes, a process known as ‘cell-free protein synthesis’. “But it is not enough to just insert the DNA of these three genes into a liposome,” lead researcher Elisa Godino explains. She compares creating the right environment for the genes to cooking. “You need to have a certain amount of each protein, and the proteins only do their job under the right conditions. A lot of time and research has gone into fine-tuning our recipe.”

Ultimately, the researchers managed to reconstruct the Min system in a liposome. Through her microscope, Elisa Godino saw the characteristic ‘protein waves’ that indicated the system worked. The next step is to reconstruct the mechanism that is responsible for building the aforementioned Z-ring. “We have already confirmed that the Min system we built properly interacts with the core components of the Z-ring”, says Godino.

In the near future, the researchers hope to combine the two cell division mechanisms, which will undoubtedly pose a number of new challenges. But still: step by step, the synthetic cell is becoming a reality.


Elisa Godino, Jonás Noguera López, David Foschepoth, Céline Cleij, Anne Doerr, Clara Ferrer Castellà, Christophe Danelon, “De novo synthesized Min proteins drive oscillatory liposome deformation and regulate FtsA-FtsZ cytoskeletal patterns”, Nature Communications (2019) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-12932-w