Integrating artificial with natural cells to translate chemical messages that direct E. coli behaviour

Nat Commun. 2014 May 30;5:4012. doi: 10.1038/ncomms5012.


Previous efforts to control cellular behaviour have largely relied upon various forms of genetic engineering. Once the genetic content of a living cell is modified, the behaviour of that cell typically changes as well. However, other methods of cellular control are possible. All cells sense and respond to their environment. Therefore, artificial, non-living cellular mimics could be engineered to activate or repress already existing natural sensory pathways of living cells through chemical communication. Here we describe the construction of such a system. The artificial cells expand the senses of Escherichia coli by translating a chemical message that E. coli cannot sense on its own to a molecule that activates a natural cellular response. This methodology could open new opportunities in engineering cellular behaviour without exploiting genetically modified organisms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Cells / drug effects
  • Artificial Cells / metabolism*
  • Cell Engineering / methods*
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles / drug effects
  • Cytoplasmic Vesicles / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hemolysin Proteins / drug effects
  • Hemolysin Proteins / metabolism*
  • Isopropyl Thiogalactoside / metabolism
  • Purinergic P1 Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Riboswitch / drug effects
  • Riboswitch / genetics*
  • Theophylline / pharmacology


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Purinergic P1 Receptor Antagonists
  • Riboswitch
  • Isopropyl Thiogalactoside
  • Theophylline