Special Issue "Membranous and Membraneless Interfaces—Origins of Artificial Cellular Complexity"

A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Synthetic Biology and Systems Biology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 September 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Pasquale Stano
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie Biologiche e Ambientali (DiSTeBA), Università del Salento Campus Ecotekne, S. P. 6 Lecce-Monteroni, 73100 Lecce, Italy
Interests: origins of life; synthetic biology; artificial life; synthetic cells; drug delivery; bio-chem-ICTs; autopoiesis and cognition
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Kanta Tsumoto
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Division of Chemistry for Materials, Graduate School of Engineering, Mie University, Tsu, Mie 514-8507, Japan
Interests: artificial membranes; liposomes; biological phase separation; membrane proteins; membrane fusion; virus-related materials

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Living cell architecture is based on the concept of micro-compartmentation at different hierarchical levels. Cells themselves are self-bounded compartments, limited by a lipid membrane; eukaryotic cells have internal membrane-bound organelles dedicated to specific cellular functions, such as the cell nucleus, mitochondria and chloroplasts, the endoplasmic reticulum, the Golgi apparatus, as well as endosomes, lysosomes, etc. Moreover, membraneless compartments are currently under intense investigation in all types of cells. Compartments imply confinement and chemical gradients, and thus the non-homogeneous distribution of chemical species. Ultimately, compartmentation sustains fundamental processes for life maintenance, regulation, and information processing.

For decades, such complicated colloidal fine structures have attracted scientific attention. In addition to descriptive investigations, a bottom-up (constructive, synthetic) approach has recently emerged, often recognized within the bottom-up branch of Synthetic Biology.

Several biofunctions (in whole or in part) have been reconstituted in vesicles, usually—but not uniquely—made of lipids. Membraneless organelles have been recently featured thanks to experiments on liquid/liquid phase separation (LLPS) occurring in highly crowded solutions. Microdroplets made of hydrophilic polymer systems, similar to the PEG/dextran aqueous two-phase systems (ATPSs), are commonly used for modeling membraneless compartments. Various types of coacervates have shown complex cell-like behavior under several experimental conditions.

This Special Issue aims at collecting the most recent studies on artificial systems based on different types of compartmentalization. The final goal is the understanding of inter-cellular and intra-cellular mechanisms that contribute to the development of cellular complexity, revealing “emergent” properties occurring in cell and protocell systems. Biological meanings of interfaces and compartmentalization, set by not only membranous but also membraneless boundaries, will be discussed by viewing the results of theoretical consideration, wet experiments and plausible hypotheses based on artificial cell systems, such as membrane vesicles (liposomes), microemulsion droplets, and membraneless microdroplets emerging upon the micro-phase separation of the aqueous binary or multi-component (bio)polymer systems. These are considered to emerge as conventional and brand-new microstructures that assume intracellular environments highly crowded with biomacromolecules. The Special Issue also includes research presentations on related experimental/theoretical investigations; thus, let us think deeply about how (proto)cells could emerge as molecular microcompartment systems that developed their own interfaces.

We would like to elicit the submission of articles (full articles, reviews, etc.) related to the broad subject of membrane and membraneless microcompartments, their physico-chemical features, their use as cell or organellae models and, in general, about the peculiar characteristics of compartment architectures. All types of approaches are welcome (experimental, theoretical, conceptual, numerical simulations, etc.).

We look forward to receiving your best contributions and assembling a high-quality Special Issue.

Prof. Dr. Pasquale Stano
Prof. Dr. Kanta Tsumoto
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Life is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • aqueous two-phase systems
  • artificial cells
  • coacervates
  • colloids
  • compartments
  • droplets
  • liposomes
  • liquid/liquid phase separation
  • membrane
  • membraneless
  • micelles
  • microdomains
  • organellae
  • proteinosomes
  • protocells
  • synthetic biology
  • synthetic cells
  • vesicles

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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