Cell-Inspired All-Aqueous Microfluidics: From Intracellular Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation toward Advanced Biomaterials

Adv Sci (Weinh). 2020 Feb 11;7(7):1903359. doi: 10.1002/advs.201903359. eCollection 2020 Apr.


Living cells have evolved over billions of years to develop structural and functional complexity with numerous intracellular compartments that are formed due to liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS). Discovery of the amazing and vital roles of cells in life has sparked tremendous efforts to investigate and replicate the intracellular LLPS. Among them, all-aqueous emulsions are a minimalistic liquid model that recapitulates the structural and functional features of membraneless organelles and protocells. Here, an emerging all-aqueous microfluidic technology derived from micrometer-scaled manipulation of LLPS is presented; the technology enables the state-of-art design of advanced biomaterials with exquisite structural proficiency and diversified biological functions. Moreover, a variety of emerging biomedical applications, including encapsulation and delivery of bioactive gradients, fabrication of artificial membraneless organelles, as well as printing and assembly of predesigned cell patterns and living tissues, are inspired by their cellular counterparts. Finally, the challenges and perspectives for further advancing the cell-inspired all-aqueous microfluidics toward a more powerful and versatile platform are discussed, particularly regarding new opportunities in multidisciplinary fundamental research and biomedical applications.

Keywords: advanced biomaterials; all‐aqueous microfluidics; cell‐inspiration; intracellular organelles; liquid–liquid phase separation.

Publication types

  • Review