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Artificial cell can be used to destroy germs such as E. coli and clean up pollution in water

The Pac-Man cell that ‘eats’ bacteria: Artificial cell can be used to destroy germs such as E. coli and clean up pollution in water, scientists say

  • Scientists have developed an artificial cell that can eat bacteria – like Pac-Man
  • The cells are the size of red blood cells and can be used to ‘eat’ bad bacteria
  • The cell was created by researchers at New York and Chicago universities


Scientists have developed an artificial cell that can eat bacteria – just like the hungry video game character Pac-Man.

The cells are the size of a red blood cell and can be used to ‘eat’ bad bacteria such as E coli, deliver drugs to sites in the body and clean up pollution in water.

The Pac-Man cell was created by researchers at New York and Chicago universities by piercing a microscopic hole in a sphere made from a polymer to allow matter to enter or exit. 

The cell can be made to pump or ‘eat’ by shining a light on it. The research was published in Nature.

Scientists have developed an artificial cell that can eat bacteria – just like the hungry video game character Pac-Man (stock image) 

Stefano Sacanna, associate professor of chemistry at NYU said: ‘Think of the cell mimics like the Pac-Man video game-they go around eating the pollutants and removing them from the environment.’

He added: ‘Our design concept enables these artificial cell mimics to operate autonomously and perform active transport tasks that have so far been confined to the realm of living cell,’ adding that the artificial cell can ‘ingest, process, and expel foreign bodies.’

The researchers tested the cell mimics in different environments.

‘In one experiment, they suspended the cell mimics in water, activated them with light, and observed them ingesting particles or impurities from the water surrounding them, illustrating a potential application for cleaning microscopic pollutants out of water.

The Pac-Man cell was created by researchers at New York and Chicago universities by piercing a microscopic hole in a sphere made from a polymer to allow matter to enter or exit (stock image)

The Pac-Man cell was created by researchers at New York and Chicago universities by piercing a microscopic hole in a sphere made from a polymer to allow matter to enter or exit (stock image)

In another experiment, they demonstrated that the cell mimics can swallow E.coli bacteria and trap them inside the membrane, potentially offering a new method for fighting bacteria in the body.

Another future application for the cell mimics could be drug delivery, given that they can release a preloaded substance when activated.

The researchers are continuing to develop and study cell mimics, including building ones that perform different tasks and learning how different types communicate with each other.

Pac-Man video games were launched in 1980.

They were originally called Puck Man, but makers Namco decided to change their name to prevent vandals altering the name to create an obscenity.

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