Optical tweezers -- mini 'tractor beams' -- help arrange artificial cells into tissue structures

Researchers have used lasers to connect, arrange and merge artificial cells, paving the way for networks of artificial cells that act like tissues. The team say that by altering artificial cell membranes they can now get the cells to stick together like 'stickle bricks' -- allowing them to be arranged into whole new structures. Biological cells can perform complex functions, but are difficult to controllably engineer. Artificial cells, however, can in principle be made to order. Now, researchers from Imperial College London and Loughborough University have demonstrated a new level of complexity with artificial cells by arranging them into basic tissue structures with different types of connectivity. These structures could be used to perform functions like initiating chemical reactions or moving chemicals around networks of artificial and biological cells. This could be useful in carrying out chemical reactions in ultra-small volumes, in studying the mechanisms through which cells communicate with one another, and in the development of a new generation of smart biomaterials.