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As we all know, all current knowledge cannot explain how life originated on earth, and the base of the reconstructed tree of life still remains impenetrable and mysterious.

Our living world is governed by two great principles. One is Darwinian evolution. All life is interconnected through a Darwinian evolution of random variation and selective retention. Another principle is the cellularity. Cellularity is the fundamental and universal organizational unit of life.

In Tianjin, this year, we set-up a BioMOD team to study the cellularity. We propose to design and construct artificial intelligent cells de novo in lab (we name it as A.I. cell). Our A.I. cell looks like a real cell. For instance, the shape is round and the size is in the range of 10-30 μm. Moreover, the central biochemical reactions, i.e., transcription and translation, function well in our A.I. cell.

We believe that our A.I. cell might be the first step towards to synthetic life.

To form A.I. cell, we used microfluidics technology to generate microdroplets, and encapsulated in vitro transcription and translation (IVTT) system in the microdroplets.

We first designed and fabricated microfluidic devices via photolithography and soft lithography. With this device, we generated microdroplets with fine monodispersity. On the other hand, we designed DNA molecules to construct plasmid encoded with reporter gene. Surprisingly, IVTT not only survived in microdroplets, but also functioned well to express reporter proteins. By designing and tuning the gene sequences, we got different reporter proteins.

Although at present stage our A.I. cell is the most simplified prototype, we believe that our study could be a seed for the future explorations to construct more functional artificial cells, and we envision that basing on our A.I. cell the whole life could be synthesized in lab in future.


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