Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Pasquale Stano

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Dear All

my comment for this and other FET topics focuses on the emerging field of bottom-up construction of synthetic cells, an activity that is rapidly progressing in the recent years and derives from the convergence of cell free systems and liposome technology and possibly microfluidics.

This enterprise aims at constructing synthetic cells according to a synthetic biology approach but importantly not starting from pre-existing living cells, therefore there is no genetic manipulation of organisms.

3 fundamental aspects are related to this new technology: 1) creating systems for studying biological processes without the interference of background processes that occurs in all cells, 2) creating models for primitive cells (origin of life research, see the FP6 Synthcells proposal), 3) creating tools for future biotechnological applications like for example in the bio-chem-ICTs arena or smart drug delivery or tools for academic research

In principle, bottom up synthetic cells can be designed and constructed from basic principles and their construction requires multidisciplinar approaches where chemistry and biology play a major role, but also mathematical models helps considerably. Moreover, it is expected that soon synthetic cells will be constructed by microfluidic devices so obtaining a robust technology for next generation synthetic cells with more advanced performances.

Today, the synthesis of proteins inside synthetic cells is considered a standard achievement, at least for water-soluble proteins. More work is needed to (re)construct complex biochemical paths inside synthetic cells and also to control their function, to generate self-maintaining cells, and systems capable of "intelligent" behavior.

My suggestion/comment for most of the topics of the survay is to look to an aspect that is very modern and can really change our attitude to deal with synthetic cells. This is interfacing synthetic cells with natural cells by chemical exchanges so that their behavior can be reciprocally affected in programmable way. This will pave the way to constructing bio-chem-ICTs tools and to create hybrid natural/synthetic cell community.

Clearly I work in this field and I believe it is the real frontier of synthetic biology, perhaps more grounded on basic science in this stage but very promising for future research. Europe should try to assume the leadership position in this area (bottom up or in vitro synthetic biology).



Consultation for new FET Proactive topics