Vesicle aggregates as a model for primitive cellular assemblies
Primitive cell models help to understand the role that compartmentalization plays in origin of life scenarios. Here we present a combined experimental and modeling approach towards the construction of simple model systems for primitive cellular assemblies. Charged lipid vesicles aggregate in the presence of oppositely charged biopolymers, such as nucleic acids or polypeptides. Based on zeta potential measurements, dynamic light scattering and cryo-transmission electron-microscopy, we have characterized the behavior of empty and ferritin-filled large unilamellar POPC vesicles, doped with different amounts of cationic (DDAB, CTAB) and anionic (sodium oleate) surfactants, and their aggregation upon the addition of anionic (tRNA, poly-L-glutamic acid) and cationic (poly-L-arginine) biopolymers, respectively. The experimental results are rationalized by a phenomenological modeling approach that predicts the average size of the vesicle aggregates as function of the amount of added biopolymers. In addition, we discuss the mechanism of vesicle aggregation induced by oppositely charged biopolymers. Our study complements previous reports about the formation of giant vesicle clusters and thus provides a general vista on primitive cell systems, based on the association of vesicles into compartmentalized aggregates.