Simple Model Cell Made from Scratch

A team of scientists at Penn State University is using a new approach to understand cells. They are starting from scratch. Many scientists start with something complex, such as an entire cell, and then delete genes one at a time to find what those genes do in the cell. Dr. Christine Keating, who led the research team, points out that her group is doing just the opposite. According to Keating, they are starting with a simple model cell to find out what is needed to simulate the most basic cell functions. Keating emphasizes that their goal is not to make a real cell. Rather, they want to understand the physical principles that govern biological systems.

The teams model cell is made up of cytoplasm surrounded by a cell membrane. The cytoplasm is a mixture of two somewhat gelatinous fluids. The two fluids do not mix, so one surrounds the other much as egg white surrounds an egg yolk. The cell membrane is made up of several types of lipids.

Researchers exposed the model cell to a concentrated sugar solution. Water diffused out of the cell and into the surrounding sugar solution. As a result, the volume of the cell decreased, leaving a membrane that was now too large for its contents. The cell changed to a budded form that looks like the two overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. The two fluids separated from each other based on their different interactions with the cell membrane. The cell exhibited a distinct polarity: one substance filled the main cell body, and the other substance filled the cell bud. “Polarity is critical to development,” stated Keating. “It is an important first step . . . in which different cells perform different functions.”

The next step for the research team involves making a cascade in polarity. “Now,” says Keating, “we want to find out what will happen if, for example, we add an enzyme whose activity depends on the compositions of the cytoplasm and cell membrane.”

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  1. I believe this is a much better approach to understanding how our cells function. Though this experiment could hurt patients it could be used on, it would help expand our knowledge of our cells.

  2. It’s a very interesting article. I liked their thoughts on how they are going to research their idea. It can help me understand cells in a better way.

  3. This is a really good method to find out how to understand cells. It could do some damage to people its being tested on, but it would definatly help us understand exactly what goes on in the cells.

  4. This experiment could prove to be very useful in finding out how the cell works and how it functions thus improving our understanding of the human body.

  5. In my opinion, their approach to learning more about cells is a very interesting, yet smart way to look at the cell in a total different perspective. I would love to do a lab similar to this.

  6. Sarah-Catherine says

    I think that is the way new things are discovered when you look or do things a different way then everyone else has. You might just learn the same thing but there is also a chance that going backwards or constructing from a different perspective is interesting and time well spent.

  7. I think this makes more sense because you can see what is vital to the cell to survive, and what each part of the cell helps with. Then you can see what advances the cell makes as you add each gene individually; if you take away a gene, you will see what can not function with all of them together.

  8. I thought that this article was very interesting. It is a new approach rather than using a live stem cell. In my opinion though this might not work. How do we know if they are truly identical to a live human cell? There are many varying differences that could cause major malfunctions. This is still a good idea, but you can never know how completely accurate it is though.

  9. It is great that these scientists found another way to look at cells. By creating their own model, they showed a deeper understanding, and helped people like my also understand the construction of a cell. Now that they have an accurate model, the scientists have a chance to test to further their research.
    GO PSU!!!

  10. I think this is a great idea for how to research. This could allow scientists to explore so much more about cells and the different functions of each specific organelle. It also could help with diseases and how to prevent them if you add a certain chemical to the cellls.

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