Nature's lessons in design: nanomachines to scaffold, remodel and shape membrane compartments
Compartmentalisation of cellular processes is fundamental to regulation of metabolism in Eukaryotic organisms and is primarily provided by membrane-bound organelles. These organelles are dynamic structures whose membrane barriers are continually shaped, remodelled and scaffolded by a rich variety of highly sophisticated protein complexes. Towards the goal of bottom-up assembly of compartmentalised protocells in synthetic biology, we believe it will be important to harness and reconstitute the membrane shaping and sculpting characteristics of natural cells. We review different in vitro membrane models and how biophysical investigations of minimal systems combined with appropriate theoretical modelling have been used to gain new insights into the intricate mechanisms of these membrane nanomachines, paying particular attention to proteins involved in membrane fusion, fission and cytoskeletal scaffolding processes. We argue that minimal machineries need to be developed and optimised for employment in artificial protocell systems rather than the complex environs of a living organism. Thus, well-characterised minimal components might be predictably combined into functional, compartmentalised protocellular materials that can be engineered for wide-ranging applications.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Chemical compartmentalisation by membranes: from biological mechanism to biomimetic applications