Primary investigator: Carsten Svaneborg University of Southern Denmark. (ongoing research)
The central dogma of FLiNT is that a minimal living protocell can be realised through the functional integration of just three components: a self-assembled soft-matter container, a chemical metabolism, and information carrying molecules. The container colocalizes the information molecules and the metabolism and provides the protocell with an genetic identitity and a boundary to the environment. The metabolism converts environmental ressources into the chemical constituents of comprising the protocell itself. This enables the protocell to grow and replicate itself. The information molecules are used to actively regulate the metabolism and hence the protocell division process.
In this protocell model (forcefield version 62), a surfactant stabilized oil-droplet acts as the container. The information molecules are anchored to the container by a hydrophobic anchor. Between the anchor and the information molecule are a red or blue particle. These represent a light harvesting and a catalytic molecule, respectively, that model the metabolism used in the laboratory. When they are colocalized by being tethered to complimentary information molecules, the metabolic rate is maximised, and the metabolism acts by converting oil in the core into surfactant, hence driving the droplet to divide. Unfortunately, the droplet does not just divide but also fuses, which leads to undersired mixing of information molecules between different containers. Even though these model are quite primitive, they adequately illustrates the complexity of integrating self-assembly, sequence information, and metabolic reactions in these materials.