Model cellular membranes respond to chemical and electrical stimuli, regulating transport and exchange between two neighboring aqueous droplets. This regulated exchange may prove useful for controlling aqueous micro-environments for studying stimuli-responsive encapsulated bacteria. This concept is explored in this work, focusing on characterizing the bacterial response within a synthetic cellular environment.

In the droplet interface bilayer (DIB) approach, aqueous micro-droplets deposited in an oil reservoir with dissolved lipids are coated with lipid monolayers and arranged into artificial cellular networks. This approach has been explored for potential use as a biologically-inspired smart material, but new material transduction pathways are necessary. This may be accomplished by combining this bottom-up approach to synthetic biology with living organisms such as stimuli-responsive bacteria.

Bacteria encapsulation within the microfluidic droplets begins with a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli), XL1-Blue. These flagellated bacteria naturally respond and move towards chemoattractants such as casamino acids, and their motion may be tracked through differential interference contrast (DIC) and fluorescent microscopy. Chemotaxis of XL1-Blue was assessed through low-flow perfusion of the chemoattractant (casamino acids) into a buffer solution containing the bacteria through a tailored capillary tube. Next, the response of bacteria within asymmetric DIB networks separating the bacteria and the chemoattractant were studied.

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