Reconstituting Biology: Charting the Way to Minimal Cells


18 - 22 July 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

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Cell biologists are being equipped with an ever-growing repertoire of techniques and approaches to unravel the inner life of the cell. Reconstitution of cellular functions from individual components in vitro – has traditionally been the interface of cell biology with biochemistry. However, recently, technological advances have enabled researchers to use reconstitution experiments to address questions far beyond enzyme kinetics or protein interactions. This development has been a multidisciplinary effort, driven in large parts by the biophysics community with input from many other disciplines, such as engineering and chemistry. In fact, first steps are being made to reconstitute minimal synthetic cells - although at the same time, it has become clear that the goals set out by all these programmes remain highly ambitious, despite the progress that has been made and the scientific knowledge that has emerged.


The goal of this workshop is therefore to revisit existing efforts, devise new, concrete and realistic multidisciplinary research directions for reconstitution experiments at the boundary of biology, physics and chemistry, and to connect the growing bottom-up synthetic biology communities world-wide by inviting researchers from both sides of the Atlantic, beyond the boundaries of consortia such as BaSyC and MaxSynBio.


With the participants of this workshop, we want to critically reflect on the achievements so far, and to map future research directions and visions: we want to jointly design a road map for the future, for how we can reconstitute ever more complex systems, and how we understand what we recreate in the lab.


The questions/topics we will focus on are below.


  1. Will we ever be able to reconstitute anything life-like? Is it worthwhile striving for, and what are the tangible and interesting goals en route? How is the concept of “function” linked to this goal?
  2. What are currently the main methodological limitations for reconstituting biological inspired systems from the bottom up? How can we overcome them? How can we set up a research community that is efficiently connected to share building blocks, techniques, and protocols?
  3. Bottom-up synthetic biology is inspired by Feynman’s quote “What I cannot create, I do not understand”. But do we understand what we created? If so, in which cases, and to what extent do we understand it?

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