Formation of giant polymer vesicles by simple double emulsification using block copolymers as the sole surfactant†
Polymer vesicles that mimic the function of cell membranes can be obtained through the self-assembly of amphiphilic block copolymers. The cell-like characteristics of polymer vesicles, such as the core–shell structure, semi-permeability and tunable surface chemistry make them excellent building blocks for artificial cells. However, the standard preparation methods for polymer vesicles can be time consuming, require special equipment, or have low encapsulation efficiency for large components, such as nanomaterials and proteins. Here, we introduce a new encapsulation strategy based on a simple double emulsification (SDE) approach which allows giant polymer vesicles to be formed in a short time and with basic laboratory equipment. The SDE method requires a single low molecular weight block copolymer that has the dual role of macromolecular surfactant and membrane building block. Giant polymer vesicles with diameters between 20–50 μm were produced, which allowed proteins and nanoparticles to be encapsulated. To demonstrate its practical application, we used the SDE method to assemble a simple artificial cell that mimics a two-step enzymatic cascade reaction. The SDE method described here introduces a new tool for simple and rapid fabrication of synthetic compartments.