London, June 6 : Working in their laboratory, Harvard University researchers have created a model of primitive cell that is capable of building, copying and containing DNA.
The researchers say that their protocell model may be very helpful in gaining insights into how Earth's earliest cells may have interacted with their environment about 3.5 billion years ago, given that there exists no physical record of the appearance and growth and division of the first primitive cells on Earth.
Lead researcher on the project, Jack W. Szostak, has revealed that the protocell's fatty acid membrane allows chemical compounds, including the building blocks of DNA, to enter into the cell without the aid of the protein channels and pumps required by the present-day highly developed cell membranes.
He has also revealed that unlike modern cells, their protocell does not use enzymes for copying its DNA.
"Szostak's group took a creative approach to this research challenge and made a significant contribution to our understanding of small molecule transport through membranes," Nature magazine quoted Luis Echegoyen, director of the Division of Chemistry at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the project, as saying.
Szostak says that before starting work on the project, he and his colleagues were unsure whether or not the building blocks required for copying the protocell's genetic material would be able to enter the cell.
"By showing that this can happen, and indeed happen quite efficiently, we have come a little closer to our goal of making a functional protocell that, in the right environment, is able to grow and divide on its own," he said.