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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec 21;101(51):17669-74. Epub 2004 Dec 10.

A vesicle bioreactor as a step toward an artificial cell assembly.

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Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, The Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.


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 alpha-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 muM after 4 days. Oxygen diffusion and osmotic pressure are critical parameters to maintain expression and avoid vesicle burst.

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