Fat between 2 worlds
Obsolete forms and future morphologies

2013 - 2015




Fat between 2 worlds is a hybrid installation that exploits the versatile nature of fats to produce cell-like structures. It presents a collection of lipid membranes with unique morphologies grown in vitro using self-assembly processes and lipid mixtures.

A ubiquitous structure in biological matter, the lipid membrane is frequently described as the basic compartment of all living cells or as a physical requirement for maintaining life’s integrity. It is also seen as the primordial microenvironment, which may have enabled the emergence of the earliest life forms. At the same time, this lipid structure nourishes the hope and embodies the longstanding ambition of creating life in a laboratory. Today, growing lipid vesicles is central to the idea of constructing microsystems that aim to achieve cellular functions often called proto, synthetic or minimal cells. This soft boundary provides, thus, a plausible scenario and a physical space to envision where are we coming from and where are we heading.

In Fat between 2 worlds, depending on their composition and aqueous environment, lipids generate rich and diverse microstructures such as filamentous morphologies, highly interconnected networks or biogeometrical groupings. The project has focused on the soft properties of lipids as an optimal medium not only to imagine primitive cells and obsolete forms; but also to envision the possible morphologies of future life. Highlighting the range of organic structures that lipids generate and their potential utility as bioreactors, this work aims to reflect upon the genesis of form and the quest to synthesize life, while considering how fats come to matter.



Lipids (POPC, cholesterol, Egg PC, DPPC, DPhPC, DOPC, POPG, myristoleic acid), DNA (7249 bp), sucrose, fluorescence dyes (TexasRed, DAPI, NBD), water, magnesium, thermostat, glass tubes, video projector (LCD), fluorescence microscope (40X-20X), and LED lamp.



Fat between 2 worlds – Artificial membranes grown in an aqueous medium using lipid mixtures and self-assembly processes.1_ Filamentous structure with encapsulated DNA and sugar that resembles bacteria (confocal microscopic image). Scale bar, 70 μm. 2_ Fluorescence microscopic image of a self-assembled microstructure made out of phospholipids and cholesterol. © Photos by Juan M. Castro



How fats come to matter

Carbon-based life, as we know it today, could not have developed without membranes. All living cells are universally enclosed by a selective permeable barrier: the plasma membrane. This liquid boundary is a necessary prerequisite for maintaining life’s integrity. Its fundamental role is to separate and mediate between the inner milieu of the cell and the external hostile environment. Hence, membranes are the most abundant biological structures in living matter.

Today, as the technology to combine and extract biological materials increases, the significance of the membrane becomes tangible. For the past 40 years, linking the methods and techniques of the life and chemical sciences, teams of scientists have been working on the construction of cell-sized systems using artificial vesicles. These membrane boundaries, composed by one or a few thin layers, are known as lipid vesicles or more frequently as liposomes. Owing to their relation in the understanding of cellular function, the origins of life and the development of promising biotechnological applications, liposomes have been used as cell models to test various biophysical and biochemical scenarios. Studies include the mechanical properties of the membrane, lipid dynamics and the reconstitution of membrane proteins, among others. Furthermore, considerable progress has been made towards the encapsulation of macromolecules inside giant liposomes and the assembly of vesicles that can grow and divide.

Since their physical properties can be organized across the molecular level and the microscale, liposomes offer unprecedented possibilities to explore and manipulate biological matter. This is clearly exposed in the investigations that aim at constructing dynamic systems with the properties of living cells. The main goal of these projects is to prepare cell-like structures with the minimal and sufficient conditions for being described as living. Currently, this line of study is collectively called protocells. According to Mark A. Bedau, “many expect that the first ones could exist in the laboratory within the next five to ten years and could survive in the natural environment outside of the laboratory within the next ten to twenty years”. In the scientific community, it seems as if the construction of autonomous artificial cells is just a matter of time.

While many of the components required for the construction of a functional artificial metabolism have already been developed or extracted, the reality is that there are still several problems before self-replication and Darwinian evolution can be achieved in the laboratory. Yet, imagining that this can be accomplished within the next decades, it is possible to conceive the changing of these microsystems into increasingly complex things. Clearly, these phenomena may resolve many questions about the emergence of the first cells, self-replication and the ability of artificial systems to adapt to changing environments. However, they may also tell us something critical: if the probability of life is limited by biochemical constraints, or if other forms of life are also possible. Consequently, the questions arising now are: how long is the road from here to artificial self-replication? How should we reflect about the possibility of synthesizing new forms of life? Can we gain insight by looking at membranes of the past and the possible morphologies of future life?

Key words: lipid membrane, self-organizing matter, fat, primordial microenvironments, wet artificial life, hybrid art






Fat between 2 worlds – View of the installation.1_Image showing the vertical growth of lipid structures. 2_Highly interconnected lipid networks at the micro scale. Scale bar, 40 μm. 3_Self-assembled filamentous structures (fluorescence micrograph). Scale bar, 40 μm© Photos by Juan M. Castro.






Fat between 2 worlds – "A matter of softness". Esther Klein Gallery, Science Center. Philadelphia, USA. Aug 26 - Sept 23, 2015. Installation view. © Photos 1 and 2 by Juan M. Castro. © Photos 3 and 4 by Jaime Alvarez.




Fat between 2 worlds – "Home/sick". Science Gallery, Trinity College. Dublin, Ireland. May 1 - Jul 19, 2015. ©Photos: Science gallery, Trinity College Dublin.



Scientific advisor   Taro Toyota (The University of Tokyo)
Support   Center for Interdisciplinary Nanoscience of Marseille. Aix - Marseille University. France
    Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies. Aix -Marseille University. France
    Laboratory for Molecular Cell Network & Biomedia art. Waseda University. Japan
    Rondelez Lab. Institute of Industrial Science. The University of Tokyo, Japan
    Toyota Group. Dept. of Basic Science. The University of Tokyo. Japan



















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