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Transcription and Translation in Cytomimetic Protocells Perform Most Efficiently at Distinct Macromolecular Crowding Conditions

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-10-05, 13:04 authored by Mahesh A. Vibhute, Mark H. Schaap, Roel J. M. Maas, Frank H. T. Nelissen, Evan Spruijt, Hans A. Heus, Maike M. K. Hansen, Wilhelm T. S. Huck
The formation of cytomimetic protocells that capture the physicochemical aspects of living cells is an important goal in bottom-up synthetic biology. Here, we recreated the crowded cytoplasm in liposome-based protocells and studied the kinetics of cell-free gene expression in these crowded containers. We found that diffusion of key components is affected not only by macromolecular crowding but also by enzymatic activity in the protocell. Surprisingly, size-dependent diffusion in crowded conditions yielded two distinct maxima for protein synthesis, reflecting the differential impact of crowding on transcription and translation. Our experimental data show, for the first time, that macromolecular crowding induces a switch from reaction to diffusion control and that this switch depends on the sizes of the macromolecules involved. These results highlight the need to control the physical environment in the design of synthetic cells.