Photoswitchable Phase Separation and Oligonucleotide Trafficking in DNA Coacervate Microdroplets

Nicolas Martin*, Liangfei Tian, Dan Spencer, Angélique Coutable-Pennarun, J. L.Ross Anderson, Stephen Mann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)
62 Downloads (Pure)


Coacervate microdroplets produced by liquid–liquid phase separation have been used as synthetic protocells that mimic the dynamical organization of membrane-free organelles in living systems. Achieving spatiotemporal control over droplet condensation and disassembly remains challenging. Herein, we describe the formation and photoswitchable behavior of light-responsive coacervate droplets prepared from mixtures of double-stranded DNA and an azobenzene cation. The droplets disassemble and reassemble under UV and blue light, respectively, due to azobenzene trans/cis photoisomerisation. Sequestration and release of captured oligonucleotides follow the dynamics of phase separation such that light-activated transfer, mixing, hybridization, and trafficking of the oligonucleotides can be controlled in binary populations of the droplets. Our results open perspectives for the spatiotemporal control of DNA coacervates and provide a step towards the dynamic regulation of synthetic protocells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14594-14598
Number of pages5
JournalAngewandte Chemie - International Edition
Issue number41
Early online date13 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sep 2019

Structured keywords

  • BrisSynBio
  • Bristol BioDesign Institute


  • azobenzene
  • coacervates
  • DNA
  • photochromism
  • protocells
  • synthetic biology


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