Creating living cellular machines

Ann Biomed Eng. 2014 Feb;42(2):445-59. doi: 10.1007/s10439-013-0902-7. Epub 2013 Sep 5.


Development of increasingly complex integrated cellular systems will be a major challenge for the next decade and beyond, as we apply the knowledge gained from the sub-disciplines of regenerative medicine, synthetic biology, micro-fabrication and nanotechnology, systems biology, and developmental biology. In this prospective, we describe the current state-of-the-art in the assembly of source cells, derived from pluripotent cells, into populations of a single cell type to produce the components or building blocks of higher order systems and finally, combining multiple cell types, possibly in combination with scaffolds possessing specific physical or chemical properties, to produce higher level functionality. We also introduce the issue, questions and ample research opportunities to be explored by others in the field. As these "living machines" increase in capabilities, exhibit emergent behavior and potentially reveal the ability for self-assembly, self-repair, and even self-replication, questions arise regarding the ethical implications of this work. Future prospects as well as ways of addressing these complex ethical questions will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Regenerative Medicine / methods*
  • Regenerative Medicine / trends
  • Synthetic Biology / methods*
  • Synthetic Biology / trends
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Tissue Engineering / trends
  • Tissue Scaffolds