Artificial cell semiconductors
Synthetic cells have been taught to produce silicon particles
The work was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Bawazer et al. Evolutionary selection of enzymatically synthesized semiconductors from biomimetic mineralization vesicles), its summary (Synthetic cells used to bioengineer new forms of silica) leads the website Phys.Org .
The researchers tried to find out the capabilities of silicate proteins – enzymes that carry out the mineralization of tissues in different animals – from single-celled plankton to corals. They are capable of forming silicon dioxide crystals, however, exactly how the crystals created by different silicateins differ was unknown.
In order to obtain crystals with the desired properties, the researchers conducted an artificial evolution: they randomly mixed the sequences of two genes of different silicate proteins, and introduced additional random mutations into them. As a result, the researchers had a mixture of different DNA molecules, the sequence of which was similar to the original silicate, but had some random changes.
DNA was attached to plastic balls, and the balls, together with a protein synthesizing apparatus (a solution of ribosomes and excipients), were enclosed in oil bubbles. These bubbles, "artificial cells" synthesized their own silicateins inside themselves, which, in turn, formed silicon dioxide crystals. Then the scientists selected individual "artificial cells" with the thickest and strongest crystals and determined the sequence of those genes that they contained.
The structure of artificial "cells" (left), particle sorting (bottom) and gene recombination (right).
An illustration from an article by Bawazer et al.
As a result, it was possible to obtain sequences of 30 silicate variants that coped well with mineralization. Most of them were similar to the original genes, but some had strong differences. For example, one of their variants of the "X1" gene encoded an enzyme that produces flat folding crystals.
The developed system can help to find enzymes with which it will be possible to produce new materials for electronics. The same approach can be applied not only for silicon, but also for other substances.
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