Energy production in nature is a critical process, primarily carried out by chloroplasts and mitochondria. These organelles are responsible for generating energy and synthesizing molecules, making them crucial for creating sustainable, synthetic cells in the lab. Researchers from Sogang University in South Korea and the Harbin Institute of Technology in China have recently identified the most promising advancements and greatest challenges in developing artificial mitochondria and chloroplasts. Their article, “Artificial organelles for sustainable chemical energy conversion and production: Artificial mitochondria and chloroplasts,” was published in Biophysics Reviews.
According to author Kwanwoo Shin, if scientists can create artificial mitochondria and chloroplasts, it could potentially lead to the development of synthetic cells capable of generating energy and synthesizing molecules autonomously. This would pave the way for creating entirely new organisms or biomaterials.
In plants, chloroplasts convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into glucose, while mitochondria, found in both plants and animals, produce energy by breaking down glucose. The energy produced by cells is often stored and transferred using adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that acts as the main energy currency of the cell.
The research team describes the components necessary for constructing synthetic mitochondria and chloroplasts, highlighting proteins as the most critical aspects for molecular rotary machinery, proton transport, and ATP production. Previous studies have replicated components of energy-producing organelles, and some of the most promising work has focused on the intermediate operations involved in the complex energy-generating process. By connecting sequences of proteins and enzymes, researchers have been able to improve energy efficiency.
However, one of the most significant challenges remaining is enabling self-adaptation in changing environments to maintain a stable supply of ATP. Future research must explore how to improve this limiting feature before synthetic cells can become self-sustainable.
The authors emphasize the importance of creating artificial cells with biologically realistic energy-generation methods that mimic natural processes. Replicating entire cells could lead to the development of future biomaterials and provide valuable insight into the past.
“This could be an important milestone in understanding the origin of life and the origin of cells,” said Shin.
Artificial organelles for sustainable chemical energy conversion and production: Artificial mitochondria and chloroplasts, Biophysics Reviews (2023). DOI: 10.1063/5.0131071