American Chemical Society
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Fission and Internal Fusion of Protocell with Membraneless “Organelles” Formed by Liquid–Liquid Phase Separation

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posted on 2020-07-03, 14:34 authored by Hairong Jing, Qingwen Bai, Ya’nan Lin, Haojing Chang, Dongxiao Yin, Dehai Liang
Construction of protocells with hierarchical structures and living functions is still a great challenge. Growing evidence demonstrates that the membraneless organelles, which facilitate many essential cellular processes, are formed by RNA, protein, and other biopolymers via liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS). The formation of the protocell in the early days of Earth could follow the same principle. In this work, we develop a novel coacervate-based protocell containing membraneless subcompartments via spontaneous liquid–liquid phase separation by simply mixing single-stranded oligonucleotides (ss-oligo), quaternized dextran (Q-dextran), and poly­(l-lysine) (PLL) together. The resulting biphasic droplet, with PLL/ss-oligo phase being the internal subcompartments and Q-dextran/ss-oligo phase as the surrounding medium, is capable of sequestering and partitioning biomolecules into distinct regions. When the droplet is exposed to salt or Dextranase, the surrounding Q-dextran/ss-oligo phase will be gradually dissociated, resulting in the chaotic movement and fusion of internal subcompartments. Besides, the external electric field at a lower strength can drive the biphasic droplet to undergo a deviated circulation concomitant with the fusion of localized subcompartments, while a high-strength electric field can polarize the whole droplet, resulting in the release of daughter droplets in a controllable manner. Our study highlights that liquid–liquid phase separation of biopolymers is a powerful strategy to construct hierarchically structured protocells resembling the morphology and functions of living cells and provides a step toward a better understanding of the transition mechanism from nonliving to living matter under prebiotic conditions.