Shape and Size Control of Artificial Cells for Bottom-Up Biology

Federico Fanalista, Anthony Birnie, Renu Maan, Federica Burla, Kevin Charles, Grzegorz Pawlik, Siddharth Deshpande, Gijsje H. Koenderink, Marileen Dogterom, Cees Dekker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


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 recreation 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5439-5450
Number of pages12
JournalACS Nano
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • bottom-up biology
  • droplets
  • lab-on-a-chip
  • liposomes
  • microfluidics
  • morphology control
  • synthetic cell


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