Cal Closer to Building “Organs from Scratch”

Synthetic biologists are getting closer to creating man-made organs made out of genetically engineered cells.

Two Cal chemists announced Tuesday they have assembled different types of genetically engineered cells into synthetic microtissues that can perform functions such as secreting and responding to hormones.

They said that means more complex biological capabilities, like the kinds done by a liver or a heart or a kidney, are not out of the question at some point soon.

“While the synthetic tissues today comprise only a handful of cells, they could eventually be scaled up to make artificial organs,” the university media office said in a statement. “Those could help scientists understand the interactions among cells in the body and might some day substitute for human organs.”

“People used to think of the cell as the fundamental unit. But the truth is that there are collections of cells that can do things that no individual cell could ever be programmed to do. We are trying to achieve the properties of organs now, though not yet organisms,” “This is like another level of hierarchical complexity for synthetic biology,” said coauthor Carolyn Bertozzi, UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology. She is also the director of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“As synthetic biologists cram more and more genes into microbes to make genetically engineered organisms produce ever more complex drugs and chemicals, two University of California chemists have gone a step further,” the university media office said.

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