Cells in tissues or biofilms communicate with one another through chemical and mechanical signals to coordinate collective behaviors. Non-living cell mimics provide simplified models of natural systems; however, it has remained challenging to implement communication capabilities comparable to living cells. Here we present a porous artificial cell-mimic containing a nucleus-like DNA-hydrogel compartment that is able to express and display proteins, and communicate with neighboring cell-mimics through diffusive protein signals. We show that communication between cell-mimics allows distribution of tasks, quorum sensing, and cellular differentiation according to local environment. Cell-mimics can be manufactured in large quantities, easily stored, chemically modified, and spatially organized into diffusively connected tissue-like arrangements, offering a means for studying communication in large ensembles of artificial cells.
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