Advancing Technology

Artificial Cells Produce Parts of Viruses for Safe Studies

A Weizmann Institute of Science team has demonstrated the production of protein assembly lines on a silicon chip

• TAGS: Materials, Virus, Bacteria, Proteins, Nanoscience

Bar Ziv Slider

Fluorescent image of artificial cells on a chip. The differences in genetic composition between cells produced the different colors, which reveal stages in building parts of a virus

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—July 20, 2020—Scientists searching for better diagnostic tests, drugs, or vaccines against a virus must begin by deciphering the structure of that virus. And when the virus in question is highly pathogenic, such research can be quite dangerous. Prof. Roy Bar-Ziv of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Materials and Interfaces; staff scientist Dr. Shirley Shulman Daube; Dr. Ohad Vonshak, a former research student in the Bar-Ziv lab; and current research student Yiftach Divon have an original solution to this obstacle. They demonstrated the production of viral parts within artificial cells.

The cells are micrometer-sized compartments etched into a silicon chip. At the bottom of each compartment, the scientists affixed DNA strands, packing them densely. The edges of the artificial cells were carpeted with receptors that can capture the proteins produced within the cells. To begin with, the scientists flooded their cells with everything needed to make proteins – molecules and enzymes necessary for reading the DNA information and translating it into proteins. Then, with no further human intervention, the receptor “carpet” trapped one of the proteins produced in the bottoms of the cells, with the rest of the viral proteins binding to one another, producing structures that the scientists had earlier “programmed” into the system. In this case, the researchers created assorted small parts of a virus that infects bacteria (a bacteriophage).

Microscope Image (1)

Microscope image of the artificial “cells” etched onto a silicon chip

“We discovered that we can control the assembly process – both the efficiency and the final products – through the design of the artificial cells,” says Prof. Bar-Ziv. “This included the cells’ geometric structure, and the placement and organization of the genes. These all determine which proteins will be produced and, down the line, what will be made from these proteins once they are assembled.”

Dr. Vonshak adds: “Since these are miniaturized artificial cells, we can place a great many of them on a single chip. We can alter the design of various cells, so that diverse tasks are performed at different locations on the same chip.”

The features of the Weizmann-developed system – including the ability to produce different small parts of a single virus at once – could give scientists around the world a new tool for evaluating tests, drugs, and vaccines against that virus. Adds Divon: “And because the artificial parts – even if they faithfully reproduced parts of the virus – do not include the use of actual viruses, they would be especially safe from beginning to end.”

Protein Factories On A Chip

Protein factories on a chip: The proteins produced from the DNA in each “cell” self-assemble to make artificial parts of a virus

“Another possible application,” says Dr. Shulman Daube, “might be the development of a chip that could rapidly and efficiently conduct thousands of medical tests all at once.”

Participating in this research were Stefanie Förste, Dr. Sophia Rudorf, and Prof. Reinhard Lipowsky from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, and David Garenne and Prof. Vincent Noireaux from the University of Minnesota. The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Prof. Roy Bar Ziv’s research is supported by the Clore Center for Biological Physics and the Harry Perlman Family.

Advancing Technology

Artificial Cells Produce Parts of Viruses for Safe Studies

A Weizmann Institute of Science team has demonstrated the production of protein assembly lines on a silicon chip

• TAGS: Materials , Virus , Bacteria , Proteins , Nanoscience

Bar Ziv Slider

Fluorescent image of artificial cells on a chip. The differences in genetic composition between cells produced the different colors, which reveal stages in building parts of a virus

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—July 20, 2020—Scientists searching for better diagnostic tests, drugs, or vaccines against a virus must begin by deciphering the structure of that virus. And when the virus in question is highly pathogenic, such research can be quite dangerous. Prof. Roy Bar-Ziv of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Materials and Interfaces; staff scientist Dr. Shirley Shulman Daube; Dr. Ohad Vonshak, a former research student in the Bar-Ziv lab; and current research student Yiftach Divon have an original solution to this obstacle. They demonstrated the production of viral parts within artificial cells.

The cells are micrometer-sized compartments etched into a silicon chip. At the bottom of each compartment, the scientists affixed DNA strands, packing them densely. The edges of the artificial cells were carpeted with receptors that can capture the proteins produced within the cells. To begin with, the scientists flooded their cells with everything needed to make proteins – molecules and enzymes necessary for reading the DNA information and translating it into proteins. Then, with no further human intervention, the receptor “carpet” trapped one of the proteins produced in the bottoms of the cells, with the rest of the viral proteins binding to one another, producing structures that the scientists had earlier “programmed” into the system. In this case, the researchers created assorted small parts of a virus that infects bacteria (a bacteriophage).

Microscope Image (1)

Microscope image of the artificial “cells” etched onto a silicon chip

“We discovered that we can control the assembly process – both the efficiency and the final products – through the design of the artificial cells,” says Prof. Bar-Ziv. “This included the cells’ geometric structure, and the placement and organization of the genes. These all determine which proteins will be produced and, down the line, what will be made from these proteins once they are assembled.”

Dr. Vonshak adds: “Since these are miniaturized artificial cells, we can place a great many of them on a single chip. We can alter the design of various cells, so that diverse tasks are performed at different locations on the same chip.”

The features of the Weizmann-developed system – including the ability to produce different small parts of a single virus at once – could give scientists around the world a new tool for evaluating tests, drugs, and vaccines against that virus. Adds Divon: “And because the artificial parts – even if they faithfully reproduced parts of the virus – do not include the use of actual viruses, they would be especially safe from beginning to end.”

Protein Factories On A Chip

Protein factories on a chip: The proteins produced from the DNA in each “cell” self-assemble to make artificial parts of a virus

“Another possible application,” says Dr. Shulman Daube, “might be the development of a chip that could rapidly and efficiently conduct thousands of medical tests all at once.”

Participating in this research were Stefanie Förste, Dr. Sophia Rudorf, and Prof. Reinhard Lipowsky from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, and David Garenne and Prof. Vincent Noireaux from the University of Minnesota. The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Prof. Roy Bar Ziv’s research is supported by the Clore Center for Biological Physics and the Harry Perlman Family.