All cells are surrounded by a membrane, a framework of fat-based molecules called phospholipids, which physically prevent water-loving substances from entering or escaping the cell. By using phospholipid vesicles to mimic the cell membrane and a purified gene expression system as the protein factory to generate specialized enzymes, we have reconstructed in vitro the key biochemical steps to synthesize phospholipids from a DNA program and simple precursors. This work represents a milestone toward the creation of an autonomous synthetic cell capable to produce its own membrane constituents.

SIM_HEK cells

Our lab contributed sample preparation for adaptive SIM imaging of the nuclei of cultured HEK cells.


Here, we studied the interplay between fatty acid vesicle integrity, spontaneous RNA cleavage and the activity of a ligase ribozyme with respect to Mg2+ concentration. We found that the ribozyme is tolerant to low Mg2+ concentration compatible with vesicle self-assembly and improved RNA strand stability.
  • van Nies, P., A. Soler Canton, Z. Nourian, and C. Danelon. Monitoring mRNA and Protein Levels in Bulk and in Model Vesicle-Based Artificial Cells. Methods in Enzymology 550:187-214, Jan. 2015.

We report on a Spinach aptamer with improved stability to accurately monitor the kinetics of mRNA production in a cell-free transcription-translation system. The dynamics of mRNA and protein synthesis was quantitatively analysed and details on the experimental procedure are provided.

  • Nourian, Z., Scott A., and C. Danelon. Toward the Assembly of a Minimal DivisomeSystems and Synthetic Biology 8 (3): 237-247, Sep. 2014.

We provide a personal perspective on the reconstitution of a division machinery into lipid vesicles. Moreover, we present the first example of liposome membrane deformation by proteins synthesized in situ from a DNA template.

  • van Nies, P., Z. Nourian, M. Kok, R. van Wijk, J. Moeskops, I. Westerlaken, J. M. Poolman, R. Eelkema, J. H. van Esch, Y. Kuruma, T. Ueda, and C. Danelon. Unbiased Tracking of the Progression of mRNA and Protein Synthesis in Bulk and inside Lipid Vesicles. ChemBioChem14 (15): 1963-1966, Oct. 2013.

    Highlighted in Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, 52, 11448.

  • Nourian, Z., and C. Danelon. Linking Genotype and Phenotype in Protein Synthesizing Liposomes with External Supply of Resources. ACS Synthetic Biology, 2 (4): 186-193, Jan. 2013.

Illustration by Alex de Mulder

  • Nourian, Z., W. Roelofsen, and C. Danelon. Triggered Gene Expression in Fed-Vesicle Microreactors with a Multifunctional Membrane. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 51 (13): 3114-3118, Mar. 2012. (pdf) View full article with supporting information (HTML)

Press & Popular science articles

  • Our lab has recently been featured in the Dutch newspaper DE TELEGRAAF (zaterdag 20 september 2014).

  • For an accessible review on The Emergence of Cellular Life see our article in the TU Delft magazine De Physicus, January 2013, 28-30. (pdf)