Pier Luigi Luisi Synthetic Biology Lab
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Luisi Lab

The Luisi lab research activity focuses on the general area of self-organization and self-reproduction of chemical and biological systems, in the framework of the field of origin of life and cell models.

The physical chemistry of surfactant aggregates, the study of reactions in compartments and the molecular biology of phage display provide the theoretical and experimental frameworks for the development of specific research projects.

The two main current projects – the Never Born Proteins and the Minimal Cell – can generally be ascribed to the domain of Synthetic Biology.
In addition, supporting research themes on the biophysics of surfactant aggregates form an integer part of the group’s activity.


Pier Luigi Luisi
The Emergence of Life - From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology (2nd Edition)
Cambridge University Press 2016
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Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision
Cambridge University Press 2014
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The Minimal Cell
The Biophysics of Cell Compartment and the Origin of Cell Functionality

Pier Luigi Luisi, Pasquale Stano (Eds.)
Springer, 1st Edition., 2011, X, buy on Amazon

In the last ten years there has been a considerable increase of interest on the notion of the minimal cell. With this term we usually mean a cell-like structure containing the minimal and sufficient number of components to be defined as alive, or at least capable of displaying some of the fundamental functions of a living cell. In fact, when we look at extant living cells we realize that thousands of molecules are organized spatially and functionally in order to realize what we call cellular life. This fact elicits the question whether such huge complexity is a necessary condition for life, or a simpler molecular system can also be defined as alive. Obviously, the concept of minimal cell encompasses entire families of cells, from totally synthetic cells, to semi-synthetic ones, to primitive cell models, to simple biomimetic cellular systems. Typically, in the experimental approach to the construction of minimal the main ingredient is the compartment. Lipid vesicles (liposomes) are used to host simple and complex molecular transformations, from single or multiple enzymic reactions, to polymerase chain reactions, to gene expression. Today this research is seen as part of the broader scenario of synthetic biology but it is rooted in origins of life studies, because the construction of a minimal cell might provide biophysical insights into the origins of primitive cells, and the emergence of life on earth. The volume provides an overview of physical, biochemical and functional studies on minimal cells, with emphasis to experimental approaches. 15 International experts report on their innovative contributions to the construction of minimal cells.

Chemical Synthetic Biology
Pier Luigi Luisi, Cristiano Chiarabelli (Eds)
Wiley, May 2011

Chemistry plays a very important role in the emerging field of synthetic biology. In particular, chemical synthetic biology is concerned with the synthesis of chemical structures, such as proteins, that do not exist in nature. With contributions from leading international experts, Chemical Synthetic Biology shows how chemistry underpins synthetic biology. The book is an essential guide to this fascinating new field, and will find a place on the bookshelves of researchers and students working in synthetic chemistry, synthetic and molecular biology, bioengineering, systems biology, computational genomics, and bioinformatics.

Pier Luigi Luisi
The Emergence of Life - From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology (1st Edition)
Cambridge University Press 2006
Publisher's website
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Cover Stories

Nature Chemistry: Commentary

Synthetic biology: Minimal cell mimicry
Pier Luigi Luisi and Pasquale Stano
Nature Chemistry 2011, 3, 755-756.

The self-reproduction of a giant lipid vesicle has been linked to the replication of encapsulated DNA — a promising combination for the construction of a minimalistic synthetic cell.
Link to the cover dedicated to the Sugawara paper

ChemBioChem: Article

The Minimal Size of Liposome-Based Model Cells Brings about a Remarkably Enhanced Entrapment and Protein Synthesis
Tereza Pereira de Souza, Pasquale Stano and Pier Luigi Luisi
ChemBioChem 2009, 10, 1056-1063

The complex transcription-translation machinery can successfully synthesize enhanced green fluorescent protein inside 100 nm (radius) lipid vesicles. Being the smallest synthetic bioreactor, such a model suggests that very small compartments can sustain (minimal) cellular life. Since classical Poisson statistics fails to predict the spontaneous formation of EGFP-expressing liposomes, we propose a possible super-concentration effect.
Link to the cover

ChemBioChem: Review

Giant Vesicles: Preparations and Applications
Peter Walde, Katia Cosentino, Helen Engel, Pasquale Stano
ChemBioChem 2010, 11, 848-865.

There is considerable interest in preparing cell-sized giant unilamellar vesicles from natural or nonnatural amphiphiles because a giant vesicle membrane resembles the self-closed lipid matrix of the plasma membrane of all biological cells. Currently, giant vesicles are applied to investigate certain aspects of biomembranes. Examples include lateral lipid heterogeneities, membrane budding and fission, activities of reconstituted membrane proteins, or membrane permeabilization caused by added chemical compounds. One of the challenging applications of giant vesicles include gene expressions inside the vesicles with the ultimate goal of constructing a dynamic artificial cell-like system that is endowed with all those essential features of living cells that distinguish them from the nonliving form of matter. Although this goal still seems to be far away and currently difficult to reach, it is expected that progress in this and other fields of giant vesicle research strongly depend on whether reliable methods for the reproducible preparation of giant vesicles are available. The key concepts of currently known methods for preparing giant unilamellar vesicles are summarized, and advantages and disadvantages of the main methods are compared and critically discussed.
Link to the cover

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