Natural protein (silk fibroin) nanoshells are assembled on the surface of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast cells without compromising their viability. The nanoshells facilitate initial protection of the cells and allow them to function in encapsulated state for some time period, afterwards being completely biodegraded and consumed by the cells. In contrast to a traditional methanol treatment, the gentle ionic treatment suggested here stabilizes the shell silk fibroin structure but does not compromise the viability of the cells, as indicated by the fast response of the encapsulated cells, with an immediate activation by the inducer molecules. Extremely high viability rates (up to 97%) and preserved activity of encapsulated cells are facilitated by cytocompatibility of the natural proteins and the formation of highly porous shells in contrast to traditional polyelectrolyte-based materials. Moreover, in a high contrast to traditional synthetic shells, the silk proteins are biodegradable and can be consumed by cells at a later stage of growth, thus releasing the cells from their temporary protective capsules. These on-demand encapsulated cells can be considered a valuable platform for biocompatible and biodegradable cell encapsulation, controlled cell protection in a synthetic environment, transfer to a device environment, and cell implantation followed by biodegradation and consumption of protective protein shells.
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