Self-division of giant vesicles driven by an internal enzymatic reaction†
Self-division is one of the most common phenomena in living systems and one of the most important properties of life driven by internal mechanisms of cells. Design and engineering of synthetic cells from abiotic components can recreate a life-like function thus contributing to the understanding of the origin of life. Existing methods to induce the self-division of vesicles require external and non-autonomous triggers (temperature change and the addition of membrane precursors). Here we show that pH-responsive giant unilamellar vesicles on the micrometer scale can undergo self-division triggered by an internal autonomous chemical stimulus driven by an enzymatic (urea–urease) reaction coupled to a cross-membrane transport of the substrate, urea. The bilayer of the artificial cells is composed of a mixture of phospholipids (POPC, 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylcholine) and oleic acid molecules. The enzymatic reaction increases the pH in the lumen of the vesicles, which concomitantly changes the protonation state of the oleic acid in the inner leaflet of the bilayer causing the removal of the membrane building blocks into the lumen of the vesicles thus decreasing the inner membrane area with respect to the outer one. This process coupled to the osmotic stress (responsible for the volume loss of the vesicles) leads to the division of a mother vesicle into two smaller daughter vesicles. These two processes must act in synergy; none of them alone can induce the division. Overall, our self-dividing system represents a step forward in the design and engineering of a complex autonomous model of synthetic cells.
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