Christopher Reinkemeier is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Molecular Biology at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, where he has been working on the development of a synthetic organelle that can be inserted in living cells and translate one mRNA (messenger RNA) to produce a specifically modified protein. The mechanism is based on genetic code expansion, which is a technique that’s been around for many years and involves artificially changing units of genetic code to encode certain amino acids. Reinkemeier explains that their organelle allows for this process of modification to occur in only one mRNA, leading to the production of only one, very specifically modified type of protein.
The fact that their organelle can carry out translation is evidence that synthetic molecules are capable of carrying out complex tasks—one of the most complex tasks a cell does, in fact. In the body, the task of translation requires the recruitment of hundreds of organic molecules that work together to create a protein, but this synthetic organelle requires just five components which recruit all of the other molecules necessary for translation in the cell. Reinkemeier discusses the ins and outs of this technology, the principle of phase separation, different types of organelles, possible applications of their organelle in medicine, and their long-term goals with this research and development.