The world’s first biopolymer that grows in a living organism

Top view of 2 snares Nozzles working and worms bending

Scientists have been able to transfer the organic slime mold, NeuQ, from the Petri dish to life on the molecular level — and what they are up to sounds a bit more like a science fiction movie than a real life experiment.

NeuQ, or “New Talon,” as its nebulously named researchers have dubbed it, is the world’s first biopolymer that grows in a living organism and can reproduce on its own. Its composition looks something like the interlocking parts of a sneeze duct.

Lab experiments showed that two samples of adult NeuQ “meatballs” were able to cross-react and produce “layers” of strands of human-made protein that are linked together with collagen and calcium phosphate. In these layers, individual chunks of living protein dissolve into a gelatinous soup that allows for the production of neurotransmitters and oxygen radicals through a process called phage multiplication. The recombination of cellular components also opens new avenues of investigation.

“NeuQ represents an important step in the biological evolution of cells,” said Zhihong Li, a graduate student and lead author of the report. “By copying the electron bioreactor, we can grow different proteins within cells, so proteins could be used for a variety of functions. For example, human proteins could be used to repair the human body.”

By expanding the use of proteins from healthy cells, scientists are hoping to get around the deadlock in the field of development. “New generations of medicine could begin to emerge that involve the properties of living organisms as a therapy,” said Robert Diener, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Stanford University and an expert on the mixtures of infectious bacteria, viruses and fungi that make up diseases like MRSA, hepatitis B and HIV.

Potential products could include antidepressants, cancer treatments and other pharmaceuticals that utilize the basic biochemical processes required for their production.

Tethered to an electrical field that’s been produced on the red side of a color wheel, the cells produce the clumps of proteins in response to blue light. They also replicate the processes that make proteins synthesize themselves into dangerous molecules like chemicals, hormones, antibodies, enzymes and cardiac enzymes.

The growth process of proteins in living organisms is a complex one but the novel construction opens up a host of opportunities. Brian Hare, a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Davis, said he wanted to develop tools to study naturally occurring proteins in the body, so that they could be used as tools of therapy.

NeuQ contains four principal components in its framework: collagen, calcium phosphate, extracellular myoglobin and myoglobin — the molecules that give mammals their blood and glucose levels.

Read the full story at Scientific American.


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