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A Photo?degradable Crosslinker for the Development of Light?responsive Protocell Membranes

A novel photocleavable, poly(ethylene) glycol?based crosslinker, reactive to biological nucleophiles is synthesized and used to covalently stabilise proteinosome membranes. The crosslinker effectively degrades on irradiation with UV light, allowing for the photopatterning of populations of proteinosomes using a 405?nm laser, and for the controlled formation of membrane pores and the consequent controlled release of macromolecular cargoes based on their molecular weight.The achievement of light?responsive behaviours is an important target for protocell engineering to allow control of fundamental protocellular processes such as communication via diffusible chemical signals, shape changes or even motility at the flick of a switch. As a step towards this ambitious goal, here we describe the synthesis of a novel poly(ethylene glycol)?based crosslinker, reactive towards nucleophiles, that effectively degrades with UV light (405?nm). We demonstrate its utility for the fabrication of the first protocell membranes capable of light?induced disassembly, for the photo?generation of patterns of protocells, and for the modulation of protocell membrane permeability. Overall, our results not only open up new avenues towards the engineering of spatially organised, communicating networks of protocells, and of micro?compartmentalised systems for information storage and release, but also have important implications for other research fields such as drug delivery and soft materials chemistry.

Publication date: 22/09/2023



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.