Interfacial assembly of protein-polymer nano-conjugates into stimulus-responsive biomimetic protocells

Nat Commun. 2013;4:2239. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3239.


The mechanism of spontaneous assembly of microscale compartments is a central question for the origin of life, and has technological repercussions in diverse areas such as materials science, catalysis, biotechnology and biomedicine. Such compartments need to be semi-permeable, structurally robust and capable of housing assemblages of functional components for internalized chemical transformations. In principle, proteins should be ideal building blocks for the construction of membrane-bound compartments but protein vesicles with cell-like properties are extremely rare. Here we present an approach to the interfacial assembly of protein-based micro-compartments (proteinosomes) that are delineated by a semi-permeable, stimulus-responsive, enzymatically active, elastic membrane consisting of a closely packed monolayer of conjugated protein-polymer building blocks. The proteinosomes can be dispersed in oil or water, thermally cycled to temperatures of 70 °C, and partially dried and re-inflated without loss of structural integrity. As a consequence, they exhibit protocellular properties such as guest molecule encapsulation, selective permeability, gene-directed protein synthesis and membrane-gated internalized enzyme catalysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acrylic Resins / chemistry*
  • Artificial Cells / chemistry*
  • Artificial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry*
  • Catalysis
  • Cell-Free System / chemistry
  • Cell-Free System / metabolism*
  • Drug Compounding
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Permeability
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / chemistry*
  • Surface Properties
  • Water / metabolism


  • Acrylic Resins
  • Water
  • poly-N-isopropylacrylamide
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine