Yale scientists build artificial cells to measure energy flow in living systems

Thursday, May 16, 2024

By Jon Atherton 

Living systems are defined by a continuous flow of energy, which is essential for physical development, wound healing, and our immune response to diseases like cancer.

But measuring the energy flow of a specific process, like force generation, is complicated by the more than 10,000 different kinds of molecular proteins interacting inside each of our cells.

Scientists at Yale’s Systems Biology Institute have made an artificial cell to enable precise measurement of energy consumption and force generation in our cells. The work, from the lab of Michael Murrell, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and Physics, was published in Nature Communications.

The artificial cells comprised key proteins responsible for cell force generation – a cytoskeleton, acting like the bones and muscle in the human body, wrapped in an outer membrane.

Their findings revealed that the amount of energy consumed varies with different morphological features. For example, cells with thicker cytoskeletons consumed less energy than cells with branch-like architecture, and longer cytoskeletons exerted increased force.

Unraveling the principles of energy consumption will enhance our understanding of biological organization, which underlies various cellular processes including cancer progression.

Ryota Sakamoto, a postdoctoral fellow in the Murrell Lab, was first author of the study.