What is life? Can we build living cells from molecules? We have all thought about these questions at some point in our lives. However, we still lack definitive answers. Since the cell is the fundamental building block of all life forms, we try to understand life and where it could have come from by making small compartments with life-like properties from the bottom up. Those small compartments are also called “protocells”.
In this thesis, we used coacervates and liposomes as basic units to build protocells via new routes: we combined different types of coacervates to investigate the fundamental physicochemical principles behind multiphase and temperature-responsive coacervates. Further, we combined coacervates and liposomes to produce hybrid compartmentalization systems, where coacervates droplets can be internalized by liposomes through endocytosis or direct membrane penetration. Finally, we put our results into a broader perspective of protocells and synthetic cells, highlighting connections between our work and other recent studies and identifying remaining challenges related to the development of coacervate-based protocells.
Tiemei Lu was born in Hubei Province, China. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in polymer materials and engineering from Hubei University of Technology (Wuhan, China) in 2014. Then, she moved to Zhejiang University of Technology (Hangzhou, China) as a postgraduate student. She obtained her Master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2017. After this, she worked as a research assistant in Prof. Yang Rui’s group. In September 2018, she started her PhD research program at Radboud University (Nijmegen, the Netherlands) under the supervision of Dr. Evan Spruijt and Prof. Wilhelm Huck. Her projects focused on using complex coacervates or liposomes as basic building units to understand the origin of life and the structure and function of modern cells.