Light-driven membrane assembly, shape-shifting, and tissue formation in chemically responsive synthetic cells

05 September 2023, Version 1


Living systems create remarkable complexity from a limited repertoire of biological building blocks by controlling assembly dynamics at the molecular, cellular, and multicellular level. An open question is whether simplified synthetic cells can gain similar complex functionality by being driven away from equilibrium. Here we describe a dynamic synthetic cell system assembled using artificial lipids responsive to both light and chemical stimuli. Irradiation of disordered aggregates of lipids leads to the spontaneous emergence of giant cell-like vesicles, which revert to aggregates when illumination is turned off. Under irradiation, the synthetic cell membranes can interact with chemical building blocks, remodeling their composition and forming new structures that prevent the membranes from undergoing retrograde aggregation processes. The remodeled light-responsive synthetic cells reversibly alter their shape under irradiation, transitioning from spheres to rod-like shapes, mimicking energy dependent functions normally restricted to living materials. In the presence of non-covalently interacting multivalent polymers, light-driven shape changes can be used to trigger vesicle crosslinking, leading to the formation of functional synthetic tissues. By controlling light and chemical inputs, the stepwise one-pot transformation of lipid aggregates to multivesicular synthetic tissues is feasible. Our results suggest rationale for why even early protocells may have required and evolved simple mechanisms to harness environmental energy sources to coordinate hierarchical assembly processes.


Supplementary materials

supporting information
The supporting information includes materials and methods, NMR spectra, supplementary figures, and tables.
Supplementary Movie 1
Light-triggered vesicle formation
Supplementary Movie 2
Light-induced vesicle expansion
Supplementary Movie 3
Light-driven reversible shape changes
Supplementary Movie 4
Light-driven vesicle crosslinking


Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting Policy [opens in a new tab] - please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy [opens in a new tab] and Terms of Service [opens in a new tab] apply.