AWE-somes: All Water Emulsion Bodies with Permeable Shells and Selective Compartments

Living cells exploit compartmentalization within organelles to spatially and temporally control reactions and pathways. Here, we use the all aqueous two phase system (ATPS) of poly­(ethylene glycol) (PEG) and dextran to develop all water emulsion bodies, AWE-somes, a new class of encapsulated double emulsions as potential cell mimics. AWE-somes feature rigid polyelectrolyte (PE)/nanoparticle (NP) shells and double emulsion interiors. The shells form via complexation of PE and NP at interfaces of ATPS. The NPs, excluded from the drop phase, create an osmotic stress imbalance that removes water from the encapsulated phase and draws droplets of external PEG phase into the shells to form the double emulsion interior. We demonstrate that molecules can permeate the AWE-some shells, selectively partition into the internal droplets, and undergo reaction. AWE-somes have significant potential for creating functional, biocompatible protocell systems.