Synthetic biology of minimal living cells: primitive cell models and semi-synthetic cells
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This article summarizes a contribution presented at the ESF 2009 Synthetic Biology focused on the concept of the minimal requirement for life and on the issue of constructive (synthetic) approaches in biological research. The attempts to define minimal life within the framework of autopoietic theory are firstly described, and a short report on the development of autopoietic chemical systems based on fatty acid vesicles, which are relevant as primitive cell models is given. These studies can be used as a starting point for the construction of more complex systems, firstly being inspired by possible origins of life scenarioes (and therefore by considering primitive functions), then by considering an approach based on modern biomacromolecular-encoded functions. At this aim, semi-synthetic minimal cells are defined as those man-made vesicle-based systems that are composed of the minimal number of genes, proteins, biomolecules and which can be defined as living. Recent achievements on minimal sized semi-synthetic cells are then discussed, and the kind of information obtained is recognized as being distinctively derived by a constructive approach. Synthetic biology is therefore a fundamental tool for gaining basic knowledge about biosystems, and it should not be confined at all to the engineering side.