A vesicle bioreactor as a step toward an artificial cell assembly

Vincent Noireaux, Albert Libchaber

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An Escherichia coli cell-free expression system is encapsulated in a phospholipid vesicle to build a cell-like bioreactor. Large unilamellar vesicles containing extracts are produced in an oil-extract emulsion. To form a bilayer the vesicles are transferred into a feeding solution that contains ribonucleotides and amino acids. Transcription-translation of plasmid genes is isolated in the vesicles. Whereas in bulk solution expression of enhanced GFP stops after 2 h, inside the vesicle permeability of the membrane to the feeding solution prolongs the expression for up to 5 h. To solve the energy and material limitations and increase the capacity of the reactor, the α-hemolysin pore protein from Staphylococcus aureus is expressed inside the vesicle to create a selective permeability for nutrients. The reactor can then sustain expression for up to 4 days with a protein production of 30 μM after 4 days. Oxygen diffusion and osmotic pressure are critical parameters to maintain expression and avoid vesicle burst.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17669-17674
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 21 2004


  • Cell-free protein expression
  • Membrane-anchoring polypeptide
  • α-hemolysin


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