Scientists Create Semi-Living 'Cyborg' Cells That Could Transform Medicine


In the lab, researchers have created adaptable, synthetic "cyborg" cells via a challenging chemical technique. While they lack the capacity to divide and expand, they yet resemble live cells in many ways.

The non-replication component is crucial. Artificial cells must be carefully managed in order to be helpful, and if they reproduce similarly to real cells, it will be more difficult to do so.

The scientists who developed this new technology believe that cyborgs might be used for a wide range of purposes, such as bettering cancer treatments and cleaning up pollutants using precise chemical reactions.

According to biomedical engineer Cheemeng Tan of the University of California, Davis, "the cyborg cells are programmable, do not divide, keep basic biological processes, and obtain nonnative skills."

Currently, cell engineering relies on two main methods: genetically modifying existing cells to give them new functions (more adaptable but also able to reproduce), and creating synthetic cells from start (which cannot multiply but have limited biological activities).

These third, novel tactic has produced these cyborg cells. The scientists built their structure using bacterial cells as a base and then added components from a synthetic polymer. When the polymer was within the cell, UV light was used to cross-link it into a hydrogel matrix that resembled a natural extracellular matrix.

These cyborg cells demonstrated greater resistance to stresses like high pH and antibiotic treatment - stressors that would kill off regular cells - while still being able to maintain a large portion of their usual biological functions. They're tough, just like real cyborgs.

In their recently published work, the researchers state that "Cyborg cells sustain critical activities, including cellular metabolism, motility, protein synthesis, and compatibility with genetic circuits."

The ability of the newly developed cells to invade cancer cells was demonstrated in laboratory experiments on tissue samples, highlighting the potential of these modified biological building blocks for health treatments in the future — they might one day be used to deliver drugs to incredibly precise parts of the body.

Even if these preliminary results are encouraging, that's still a ways off. According to the researchers, they now intend to experiment with the creation of these cells using other materials and look into their applications.

Additionally, it needs to be discovered precisely what is preventing the cells from multiplying. According to the authors, the hydrogel matrix may prevent cell division by preventing DNA replication, cell expansion, or both.

The researchers refer to this condition as "quasi viva" or "nearly life" since it combines the greatest aspects of the natural and artificial worlds in certain respects, creating new possibilities.

Since cyborg cells are cell-derived biomaterials that are neither cells nor materials, Tan notes, "We are interested in the bioethics of utilizing them."