Peptide-nucleotide microdroplets as a step towards a membrane-free protocell model

Nature Chemistry
Shogo KogaStephen Mann


Although phospholipid bilayers are ubiquitous in modern cells, their impermeability, lack of dynamic properties, and synthetic complexity are difficult to reconcile with plausible pathways of proto-metabolism, growth and division. Here, we present an alternative membrane-free model, which demonstrates that low-molecular-weight mononucleotides and simple cationic peptides spontaneously accumulate in water into microdroplets that are stable to changes in temperature and salt concentration, undergo pH-induced cycles of growth and decay, and promote α-helical peptide secondary structure. Moreover, the microdroplets selectively sequester porphyrins, inorganic nanoparticles and enzymes to generate supramolecular stacked arrays of light-harvesting molecules, nanoparticle-mediated oxidase activity, and enhanced rates of glucose phosphorylation, respectively. Taken together, our results suggest that peptide-nucleotide microdroplets can be considered as a new type of protocell model that could be used to develop novel bioreactors, primitive artificial cells and plausible pathways to prebiotic organization before the emergence of lipid-based compartmentalization on the early Earth.


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