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Keywords:

  • Synthetic cells;
  • Protocells;
  • Biological energy conversion;
  • Ion transport;
  • Biomimetics

Abstract

Synthetic protocells provide a new means to probe, mimic and deconstruct cell behavior; they are a powerful tool to quantify cell behavior and a useful platform to explore nanomedicine. Protocells are not simple particles; they mimic cell design and typically consist of a stabilized lipid bilayer with membrane proteins. With a finite number of well characterized components, protocells can be designed to maximize useful outputs. Energy conversion in cells is an intriguing output; many natural cells convert transmembrane ion gradients into electricity by membrane-protein regulated ion transport. Here, a synthetic cell system comprising two droplets separated by a lipid bilayer is described that functions as a biological battery. The factors that affect its electrogenic performance are explained and predicted by coupling equations of the electrodes, transport proteins and membrane behavior. We show that the output of such biological batteries can reach an energy density of 6.9 × 106 J · m−3, which is ∼5% of the volumetric energy density of a lead-acid battery. The configuration with maximum power density has an energy conversion efficiency of 10%.