The spontaneous self-assembly of multicellular ensembles into living materials with synergistic structure and function remains a considerable challenge in biotechnology and synthetic biology. Here, we exploit the aqueous two-phase separation of dextran-in-PEG emulsion micro-droplets for the capture, spatial organization and immobilization of algal cells or algal/bacterial cell communities to produce discrete multicellular spheroids capable of both aerobic (oxygen producing) and hypoxic (hydrogen producing) photosynthesis in daylight under air. We show that localized oxygen depletion results in hydrogen production from the core of the algal microscale reactor, and demonstrate that enhanced levels of hydrogen evolution can be achieved synergistically by spontaneously enclosing the photosynthetic cells within a shell of bacterial cells undergoing aerobic respiration. Our results highlight a promising droplet-based environmentally benign approach to dispersible photosynthetic microbial micro-reactors comprising segregated cellular micro-niches with dual functionality, and provide a step towards photobiological hydrogen production under aerobic conditions.
- Bristol BioDesign Institute