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Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cellular energy currency, is essential for life. The ability to provide a constant supply of ATP is therefore crucial for the construction of artificial cells in synthetic biology. Here, we describe the bottom-up assembly and characterization of a minimal respiratory system that uses NADH as a fuel to produce ATP from ADP and inorganic phosphate, and is thus capable of sustaining both upstream metabolic processes that rely on NAD+, and downstream energy-demanding processes that are powered by ATP hydrolysis. A detergent-mediated approach was used to co-reconstitute respiratory mitochondrial complex I and an F-type ATP synthase into nanosized liposomes. Addition of the alternative oxidase to the resulting proteoliposomes produced a minimal artificial "organelle" that reproduces the energy-converting catalytic reactions of the mitochondrial respiratory chain: NADH oxidation, ubiquinone cycling, oxygen reduction, proton pumping, and ATP synthesis. As a proof-of-principle, we demonstrate that our nanovesicles are capable of using an NAD+-linked substrate to drive cell-free protein expression. Our nanovesicles are both efficient and durable and may be applied to sustain artificial cells in future work.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Synth Biol

Publication Date



ATP synthase, alternative oxidase, artificial cell, co-reconstitution, complex I, respiratory chain, synthetic biology