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CBES: Center for Bio-Inspired Energy Science

Enzymatic Reactions Convectively Aggregate Microcapsules Modeling Self-Assembly of Protocells

Scientific Achievement

We discovered that reactions catalyzed by surface-bound enzymes generate fluid flow, causing reagent-laden microcapsules to aggregate.







Simulated convective aggregation of capsules (blue) driven by enzymatic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. Convective vortexes (arrows) assemble capsules above enzyme-coated patch (green).





Significance and Impact

These results provide a simple and robust mechanism for self-organization of early biological cells consisting of interior and enveloping membrane.

Research Details

  • Fueled by reagent diffusing out of capsules through porous shell.
  • Relies on convective flows generated by fluid density variations due to chemical reactions catalyzed on surfaces of microchannel.
  • Forms colony above enzyme-coated region after reagent is consumed and convection stops.


Harnessing Surface-Bound Enzymatic Reactions to Organize Microcapsules in Solution
Balazs, A., Shklyaev, O., Shum, H., Sen, A.
Sci. Adv 2, 2016, e1501835.

Work performed at University of Pittsburgh