Nature materials

Sequential bottom-up assembly of mechanically stabilized synthetic cells by microfluidics.

PMID 29035355


Compartments for the spatially and temporally controlled assembly of biological processes are essential towards cellular life. Synthetic mimics of cellular compartments based on lipid-based protocells lack the mechanical and chemical stability to allow their manipulation into a complex and fully functional synthetic cell. Here, we present a high-throughput microfluidic method to generate stable, defined sized liposomes termed 'droplet-stabilized giant unilamellar vesicles (dsGUVs)'. The enhanced stability of dsGUVs enables the sequential loading of these compartments with biomolecules, namely purified transmembrane and cytoskeleton proteins by microfluidic pico-injection technology. This constitutes an experimental demonstration of a successful bottom-up assembly of a compartment with contents that would not self-assemble to full functionality when simply mixed together. Following assembly, the stabilizing oil phase and droplet shells are removed to release functional self-supporting protocells to an aqueous phase, enabling them to interact with physiologically relevant matrices.