Minimal Out-of-Equilibrium Metabolism for Synthetic Cells: A Membrane Perspective

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Life-like systems need to maintain a basal metabolism, which includes importing a variety of building blocks required for macromolecule synthesis, exporting dead-end products, and recycling cofactors and metabolic intermediates, while maintaining steady internal physical and chemical conditions (physicochemical homeostasis). A compartment, such as a unilamellar vesicle, functionalized with membrane-embedded transport proteins and metabolic enzymes encapsulated in the lumen meets these requirements. Here, we identify four modules designed for a minimal metabolism in a synthetic cell with a lipid bilayer boundary: energy provision and conversion, physicochemical homeostasis, metabolite transport, and membrane expansion. We review design strategies that can be used to fulfill these functions with a focus on the lipid and membrane protein composition of a cell. We compare our bottom-up design with the equivalent essential modules of JCVI-syn3a, a top-down genome-minimized living cell with a size comparable to that of large unilamellar vesicles. Finally, we discuss the bottlenecks related to the insertion of a complex mixture of membrane proteins into lipid bilayers and provide a semiquantitative estimate of the relative surface area and lipid-to-protein mass ratios (i.e., the minimal number of membrane proteins) that are required for the construction of a synthetic cell.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalACS Synthetic Biology
Early online date7-Apr-2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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