American Chemical Society
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Asymmetry-Enhanced Motion of Urease-Powered Micromotors from Double Emulsion-Templated Microcapsules

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posted on 2023-10-30, 15:34 authored by Jessica Ann O’Callaghan, Daeyeon Lee, Daniel A. Hammer
Autonomous motion of enzyme-powered motors has important implications for drug delivery, cell–cell communication, and protocell engineering. Although many of these systems are inspired by the motion of biological cells, most of them lack key structural features, like micrometer-sized boundaries and aqueous compartments, and rely on bubble propulsion to generation motion. In this study, we use droplet microfluidics to generate large populations of cell-sized microcapsules with poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) shells and functionalize their surfaces with the enzyme urease to drive their motion. We adjust the number of surface functional groups for urease conjugation by preparing microcapsules with two different surfactants, poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) and poly(ethylene-alt-maleic anhydride) (PEMA). We also tune the surface roughness of the microcapsules by varying the concentration of silica nanoparticles in the droplet middle phase. We find that PEMA plays a crucial role in increasing the grafting density of urease on the surface of smooth microcapsules, leading to active motion in the presence of urea. In addition, rough microcapsules prepared with PEMA and loaded with comparable amounts of urease move up to three times faster than their smooth counterparts, which we believe is due to an asymmetric distribution of urease on the surface, giving rise to a preferred direction of motion. Taken together, these results provide new insights into the role that various stabilizing agents play in the induction of motion by enzymatic motors prepared from microfluidics, which is a potentially powerful tool for future preparation of motile protocells in biomedicine.