cell shape, simplified synthetic protocells


Biological cells have long been of interest to researchers due to their capacity to actively control their shape. Accordingly, there is significant interest in generating simplified synthetic protocells that can alter their shape based on an externally or internally generated stimulus. To date, most progress has been made towards controlling the global shape of a protocell, whereas less is known about generating a local shape change. Here, we seek to better understand the possible mechanisms for producing local morphological changes in a popular protocell system, the block copolymer vesicle. Accordingly, we have combined Dissipative Particle Dynamics (DPD) and the Split Reactive Brownian Dynamics algorithm (SRBD) to produce a simulation tool that is capable of modeling the dynamics of self-assembled polymer structures as they undergo chemical reactions. Using this Reactive DPD or RDPD method, we investigate local morphological change driven by either the microinjection of a stimulus or an enzymatically-produced stimulus. We find that sub-vesicle-scale morphological change can be induced by either a solvent stimulus that swells the vesicle membrane, or by a reactant stimulus that alters the chemistry of the block polymer in the membrane corona. Notably, the latter method results in a more persistent local deformation than the former, which we attribute to the slower diffusion of polymer chains relative to the solvent. We quantify this deformation and show that it can be modulated by altering the interaction parameter of the parts of the polymer chain that are affected by the stimulus.

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering


Chemical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor