The Artificial Cell: biology-inspired compartmentalisation of chemical function

CBMNet funded three Early Career Researchers to attend this meeting. Here are their reports:

Rashmi Seneviratne, University of Leeds

The meeting was held at the Kavli Royal Society Centre, Chicheley Hall over 2 days with talks on a variety of projects that focus on understanding the biological mechanisms of compartmentalisation and how these mechanisms can be used to develop new technologies. All presentations were given by primary investigators on topics ranging from designing and producing proteins not present in nature, an exploration of the ESCRT protein complexes to microfluidic technologies to create an artificial compartment and using compartmentalisation for computing.

I found particularly useful the talk from Mark Wallace on how different topologies and topographies affect diffusion in artificial membranes, giving insight into how these properties affect anomalous behaviour seen in cells. This presentation in particular was useful to me as my project is on hybrid lipid/polymer membranes and understanding their properties. As there is often a thickness mis-match between lipids and polymers, how topology and topography affect diffusion in these systems is of particular interest.

I enjoyed Dek Woolfson’s presentation on the theory of a bottom-up approach of creating proteins with hexameric/heptameric curvature – structures which are not normally seen in nature, and how these can be made into a reality using bacterial protein expression. Although this talk was not related to my project I found the concepts introduced here interesting.

Oscar Ces’s talk on using microfluidics to create multi-compartment artificial cells was very impressive, especially as these can then be used to engineer a cascade of enzymatice signalling reactions. The talk also provided insight into a technique I know very little about.

Between sessions, time had been allotted to discuss the posters on display. This gave PhD students the opportunity to present recent findings to other PhD students, PostDocs and PIs. The best poster was awarded a prize by the British Biophysical Society.

The observations made by others on data presented in my poster gave me some ideas on the mechanisms behind some of my results as well as areas to work on and towards in the future. I was also able to view what other students are doing in other research groups and have a conversation about our research. I was also able to see how others use posters to present their work and will be incorporating their poster ideas in my later posters.

Overall, I achieved my aims of presenting my poster, gaining more knowledge of the field, and communicating with other PhDs and PostDocs within the community.

Andrew Booth, University of Leeds

This meeting was organised by my project PIs, Paul Beales (Leeds) and Barbara Ciani (Sheffield) as an interdisciplinary meeting on compartmentalisation and the artificial cell. The topic and invited speakers were therefore perfectly tailored to our research interests and a more fitting conference to attend would be hard to imagine.

I was particularly eager to meet pioneering figures in the field of ESCRT protein reconstitution, such as Thomas Wollert, whose historical publications are seminal in the field and Aurelian Roux who is very active in deciphering the ESCRT proteins mechanism of action. In addition to their excellent and informative research presentations I was able to have very illuminating discussions at other points in the conference, notably at the poster session. This was a uniquely valuable experience as it afforded the opportunity to compare our experiences and observations as well as clarifying our mutual understanding of the field. The residential aspect of the meeting was also helpful in allowing for detailed discussions from broad concepts on the direction of artificial cell/ membrane research as a whole, down to the nuts and bolts of shared experimental procedures.

Other, less closely aligned research presentations had a clear relevance to our wider interest in artificial cell research, from diverse perspectives from cell biology, biophysics and physical chemistry. Those of Prof. Jay Groves, Prof. Christine Keating and Prof. Jan Van Hest being particularly memorable for their novelty.

My poster presentation was titled ESCRT-IIIs for compartmentalization in phospholipid vesicles: the influence of tension on membrane remodelling, and was well received and provided a good venue for discussions during the allocated poster session and between talks.

University of Sheffield logoDaniel Mitchell, University of Sheffield

On 26th and 27th February I attended the Royal Society meeting entitled “The artificial cell: biology-inspired compartmentalisation of chemical function” with the support of a bursary from the CBMNet. It was arranged at Chicheley Hall just outside Milton Keynes, an old stately home owned by the Royal Society and an impressive backdrop in which to discuss our research.

At this conference I attended a number of interesting talks both in my immediate area and some slightly outside, but within the broader spectrum of my research. This exposure to different material was particularly useful in giving me ideas that I would not have thought about otherwise. In addition, I presented a poster at the conference of my research, which resulted in some interesting conversations, especially with one senior academic in my area who I had not spoken to previously, who had some interesting comments about my project and some of his unpublished research. Furthermore, I managed to discuss a project with a collaborator in Bristol, resulting in me visiting for 2 weeks at the end of March to undertake some experiments.

Overall this conference has been a very valuable experience, and I would like to thank the CBMNet for the bursary to attend this meeting.