What research are you conducting at Cytomorpholab?
We conduct research on cells, their skeleton and their mechanism. One of the objectives of the laboratory is in particular to participate in an international momentum aimed at trying to
make living matter. Living matter being, like all living organisms, composed of cells, making it implies for us to
build a cell from scratch.
How are these cells made?
Today, dozens of research groups around the world are involved in artificial cells. Some are focused on energy production, others on the synthesis and breakdown of cellular components. Still others will use these functions to study the properties of living matter: it is within this framework that our laboratory works. We are trying to understand how cells “feel”, interact with their environment via their dynamic skeleton, and orient themselves in space.
Understanding these mechanisms of “sensation” and organization of the cell skeleton is essential in order to then reconstitute them within an artificial cell. We thus follow the reductionist postulate of Feynman who says “what I understand, I can build it”.
Rather than observing cells to understand how they work, we isolate the components of the cell, we make them reassemble outside of a cellular context, in a test tube, and these components reconstruct the architecture of the cells.
What is the point of making living matter with artificial cells?
Living matter, as opposed to inert matter, is
a material that consumes energy, so as not to degrade and to maintain its structure over time. Moreover, it is a material within which
the components are constantly renewede. This material can therefore change and adapt to its environment. So it could become a
material of the futurefor many applications.
These artificial cells could be used to
build materials that work differently, reintegrating a natural cycle. Materials that breathe, that store CO2, which produce biofuels, which use the energy specific to living organisms, called ATP. Materials which, by constantly degrading, are
inherently self-healing, self-degrading. This living material could be fully integrated into ecological cycles, unlike all the materials used in industry today. It would allow
develop sustainable and resilient systems and could be one of the important bricks for the construction of
next industrial revolutions.
These artificial cells will not be used for therapy and care. For this, we will use cells that already exist, which we will modify to perform tasks of interest aimed at treating patients.
In what way is the study published recently in EMBO journal a step forward?
This study shows how we succeeded in reconstructing, in a closed micro-compartment the size of a cell, the dynamics of two of the components of the cellular skeleton: microtubules and actin filaments. This is the first time that we have been able to understand the physical and geometric parameters that cause a cell to “polarize” in response to an external signal by reorganizing its internal skeleton and repositioning its organelles along an axis defined by the position of the signal.
Why is the CEA involved in this work?
The CEA has the particularity of developing and controlling the entire value chain from the most fundamental research to the development of prototypes and their application in industrial protocols. Whether
the CEA is now involved in very upstream research on living organismsit is because one day, it will become possible to use these living mechanisms to go as far as industrial applications.
What are the two components that form the architecture of cells?
The cell architecture is multiple. It is made up of a network of peripheral filaments that line the edge of the cells: this is the first network that will interact with the environment. The other network, made of microtubules, is a star shape starting from the center of the cells and which will interact with the first architecture. It is the discussion between these two networks that will allow the cells to sense information at different points in space, to integrate them at one point, and then to produce a response by orienting themselves in space. This can be used by the cell to orient itself towards a source of food, to escape a predator. It is a primitive elementary mechanism of all living cells.