Shape and Size Control of Artificial Cells for Bottom-Up Biology
Bottom-up biology is an expanding research field that aims to understand the mechanisms underlying biological processes via in vitro assembly of their essential components in synthetic cells. As encapsulation and controlled manipulation of these elements is a crucial step in the re-creation of such cell-like objects, microfluidics is increasingly used for the production of minimal artificial containers such as single-emulsion droplets, double-emulsion droplets, and liposomes. Despite the importance of cell morphology on cellular dynamics, current synthetic-cell studies mainly use spherical containers, and methods to actively shape manipulate these have been lacking. In this paper, we describe a microfluidic platform to deform the shape of artificial cells into a variety of shapes (rods and discs) with adjustable cell-like dimensions below 5 µm, thereby mimicking realistic cell morphologies. To illustrate the potential of our method, we reconstitute three biologically relevant protein systems (FtsZ, microtubules, collagen) inside rod-shaped containers and study the arrangement of the protein networks inside these synthetic containers with physiologically relevant morphologies resembling those found in living cells.