Colloidosomes as a Protocell Model: Engineering Life-Like Behaviour through Organic Chemistry

Colloidosomes are robust, versatile microcapsules that have emerged as promising candidates for protocell models. Read our just published review that highlights the role of organic chemistry in the engineering of colloidosomes with life-like behaviours, such as selective membrane permeability, adhesion, chemical signalling, dynamic multi-compartmentalisation, replication, and predation.

The molecular origin of cellular life and the development of complex living structures from non-living matter is an important yet unsolved problem that, if understood, would be invaluable to the scientific community. The concept of artificial cells, or protocells, serves to provide researchers with deeper insights into primitive cellular functions and behaviours through the study of abiotic cellular analogues. In the past decade, the generation of protocells has attracted lots of attention, resulting in a great number of unique protocell models. An emerging protocell model is the colloidosome, a microcapsule formed from colloidal particles. This review provides an overview of colloidosomes in protocell engineering, highlighting the role of organic chemistry in the design and chemical construction of these unprecedented “life-like” micro-compartmentalised systems. In this review, for the first time we examine all of the different types of colloidosome protocells that have been developed, and discuss how organic chemistry contributes to their bio-inspired functions. Specifically, we have categorised colloidosome protocells by their biomimetic functions into two main classifications: (1) colloidosomes as chemical micro-(bio)reactors and (2) networks of interacting colloidosomes. Colloidosomes can imitate living cells as chemical micro-(bio)reactors by taking in input reagents found in the external environment and transforming them into useful products. The achievement of this function relies on two main properties of the micro-compartmentalised system: selective membrane permeability and multi-compartmentalisation. On the other hand, networks of interacting colloidosomes comprise multiple dynamic populations of protocells, that collectively display advanced biomimetic functions such as chemical signalling, information processing, and predatory behaviours. Within this section we also highlight recent advancements in the development of networks of interconnected colloidosome protocells, called “protocellular materials”, as the next frontier in the development of novel bioinspired materials. Finally, we provide an assessment of the organic chemistry applied in this field thus far and propose promising routes for future advancements and research directions.

We believe this review article provides organic chemists with new avenues of research and advancements in the high-impact area of bottom-up synthetic biology. It is apparent that organic chemists can make significant contributions to this emerging and exciting research field as we work towards more complex, scalable, and advanced life-like systems, and towards the development of unprecedented applications, not only in biotechnology but also in environmental and energy science.

Full article here.

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