Functional frontiers: engineering biomimetic interfaces
Cells are astoundingly complex functional systems that arise through the interactions between biomolecular building blocks. Synthetic biology aims to understand, mimic, or create cellular functions by engineering these components. In this chapter we outline how membrane components support the functions of life, and how these functions are being engineered in biomimetic interfaces. Cellular membranes are based on lipid bilayer vesicles, which provide a boundary layer, keeping the cellular building blocks localized and protected from external chemicals. Cell membranes are also more than mere containers, the lipid bilayers serve as a platform for proteins, and the interactions between lipids and proteins leads to multiple functions, such as cell motility, molecular transport, and cell division. These cellular functions are being implemented in synthetic systems through the bottom-up synthetic biology of interfaces. We discuss the different types of interfaces that have been utilized, from liposomes, through to polymer membranes, protein capsules, and emulsions. The ability to engineer membrane building blocks and heirarchies can lead to membrane systems that are intrinsically responsive. We then highlight how additional cellular processes can be recreated in these systems through the interplay between the boundary material and embedded molecules. The engineering of biomimetic interfaces is leading to a better understanding of biology, helping in the bottom-up synthesis of living systems, and creating applications based on the functions of living cells.