These cyborg cells could revolutionize medicine

A group of scientists from the University of California and the Taipei Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Taiwan have developed cyborg cells with a very promising future. It is not the first time that synthetic cells have been developed. However, these are halfway between the living and the artificial, so they bring together the best qualities of both states.

At the moment they have only looked for a way to synthesize these cyborg cells. Nevertheless, as explained in a study in the journal Advanced Science, in the future they hope to be able to give them very varied uses. These could range from targeted drug delivery to contaminant cleanup.

And it is that synthetic biology is a very new science, which is just beginning to take off. However, when it does, it will have a multitude of applications that will help improve our lives from different areas. This includes any kind of synthetic life form, but also these new cyborg cells.

The goal of cyborg cells

Biotechnology is the branch of science that deals with the use of living organisms for the development of beneficial applications for humans. It is very useful in many areas. However, it should be noted that complex living organisms, as well as simple cells, are sometimes difficult to control.

This small limitation has led to the development of synthetic biology. With it you can modify living cells, to turn them into something more manageable, or directly build them from scratch. Thus, cells are obtained with most of their functions intact, but with very useful additional characteristics. For example, they cannot be reproduced, so it is easier to control them. In addition, they are programmable, so that the way they operate can be modified based on specific needs.

Cyborg cells bring together the best of both options. They’re not built from scratch, but they’re not exactly genetic cell modifications either. In their case, these scientists have used bacteria as the foundation for their invention. They then added an artificial polymer to these bacterial cells, which was then exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Thus, the polymer was altered to give rise to an artificial matrix, similar to the extracellular matrix that normally forms part of a tissue. That is why its own authors call this invention cyborg cells. The base are normal cells, but synthetic elements have been added to make them more resistant.

What are they for?

As is often the case with any other cyborg, these cells maintain their normal characteristics, but they also have some extraordinary qualities. For example, they are much more resistant to stressors such as high pH or exposure to antibiotics.

Regarding the characteristics that they retain, it has been proven that they can still synthesize proteins, move, maintain their normal metabolic reactions and follow genetic circuits. This means that they can survive as they normally do, but in more extreme conditions and, furthermore, they continue to have genetic instructions that can be maintained or modified, depending on what their function is going to be. For example, they could be used to maintain their motility, but modified so that they specifically target a tumor and, once inside, destroy it. Or to bring drugs right to the cells that need them.

All this must be studied. In fact, these scientists acknowledge that, although they have achieved the requirement that they do not reproduce, they are not very clear on how they have done it. As pointed out in Science Alert, it is possible that the artificial matrix stops cell division by inhibiting cell growth or DNA replication, or both. They will have to study this and also continue to analyze possible applications.

For now, at least they know that building cyborg cells is possible. The future of science is wonderful.

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