Systems and Synthetic Biology

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 149–156 | Cite as

Synthetic biology of minimal living cells: primitive cell models and semi-synthetic cells

  • Pasquale StanoEmail author
Research Article


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.


Autopoiesis Semi-synthetic minimal cells Cell-free protein synthesis Self-reproduction Minimal cell size 



This work has been presented at the Second European Conference on Synthetic Biology (ESF ECSB II: Design, Programming and Optimization of Biological Systems, Sant Feliux de Guixol, Spain, 29 March-03 April, 2009); it collects the recent results of Luisi’s group at ETH Zurich and University of RomaTre. I greatly thank Pier Luigi Luisi for inspiring this research and for stimulating discussions. Tereza Souza (University of Jena) and Yutetsu Kuruma (University of Tokyo) are also acknowledged as co-authors of the original papers on minimal cell size and lipid-synthesizing minimal cell. This work has been funded by the SYNTHCELLS project (Approaches to the Bioengineering of Synthetic Minimal Cells, EU Grant #FP6043359); by the Human Frontiers Science Program (RGP0033/2007-C) and by the Italian Space Agency (Grant Nr. I/015/07/0). It is also developed within the COST Systems Chemistry CM0703 Action.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentUniversity of RomaTreRomeItaly

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