Three overlooked key functional classes for building up minimal synthetic cells

Synthetic Biology 6 (1):ysab010 (2021)
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Abstract

Assembly of minimal genomes revealed many genes encoding unknown functions. Three overlooked functional categories account for some of them. Cells are prone to make errors and age. As a first key function, discrimination between proper and changed entities is indispensable. Discrimination requires management of information, an authentic, yet abstract, cur- rency of reality. For example proteins age, sometimes very fast. The cell must identify, then get rid of old proteins without destroying young ones. Implementing discrimination in cells leads to the second set of functions, usually ignored. Being abstract, information must nevertheless be embodied into material entities, with unavoidable idiosyncratic properties. This brings about novel unmet needs. Hence, the buildup of cells elicits specific but awkward material implementations, ‘kludges’ that become essential under particular settings, while difficult to identify. Finally, a third functional category char- acterizes the need for growth, with metabolic implementations allowing the cell to put together the growth of its cytoplasm, membranes, and genome, spanning different spatial dimensions. Solving this metabolic quandary, critical for engineering novel synthetic biology chassis, uncovered an unexpected role for CTP synthetase as the coordinator of nonhomothetic growth. Because a significant number of SynBio constructs aim at creating cell factories we expect that they will be attacked by viruses (it is not by chance that the function of the CRISPR system was identified in industrial settings). Substantiating the role of CTP, natural selection has dealt with this hurdle via synthesis of the antimetabolite 30-deoxy-30,40-didehydro- CTP, recruited for antiviral immunity in all domains of life.

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Author's Profile

Antoine Danchin
University of Hong Kong

References found in this work

Man on His Nature.Charles Sherrington - 1940 - Cambridge University Press.
Man on His Nature.Charles Sherrington - 1956 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 7 (27):268-269.

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