Signal-processing and adaptive prototissue formation in metabolic DNA protocells

The fundamental life-defining processes in living cells, such as replication, division, adaptation, and tissue formation, occur via intertwined metabolic reaction networks that process signals for downstream effects with high precision in a confined, crowded environment. Hence, it is crucial to understand and reenact some of these functions in wholly synthetic cell-like entities (protocells) to envision designing soft materials with life-like traits. Herein, we report on all-DNA protocells composed of a liquid DNA interior and a hydrogel-like shell, harboring a catalytically active DNAzyme, that converts DNA signals into functional metabolites that lead to downstream adaptation processes via site-selective strand displacement reactions. The downstream processes include intra-protocellular phenotype-like changes, prototissue formation via multivalent interactions, and chemical messenger communication between active sender and dormant receiver cell populations for sorted heteroprototissue formation. The approach integrates several tools of DNA-nanoscience in a synchronized way to mimic life-like behavior in artificial systems for future interactive materials. © 2022, The Author(s).