Connecting primitive phase separation to biotechnology, synthetic biology, and engineering

Tony Z. Jia, Po Hsiang Wang, Tatsuya Niwa, Irena Mamajanov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


One aspect of the study of the origins of life focuses on how primitive chemistries assembled into the first cells on Earth and how these primitive cells evolved into modern cells. Membraneless droplets generated from liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) are one potential primitive cell-like compartment; current research in origins of life includes study of the structure, function, and evolution of such systems. However, the goal of primitive LLPS research is not simply curiosity or striving to understand one of life’s biggest unanswered questions, but also the possibility to discover functions or structures useful for application in the modern day. Many applicational fields, including biotechnology, synthetic biology, and engineering, utilize similar phase-separated structures to accomplish specific functions afforded by LLPS. Here, we briefly review LLPS applied to primitive compartment research and then present some examples of LLPS applied to biomolecule purification, drug delivery, artificial cell construction, waste and pollution management, and flavor encapsulation. Due to a significant focus on similar functions and structures, there appears to be much for origins of life researchers to learn from those working on LLPS in applicational fields, and vice versa, and we hope that such researchers can start meaningful cross-disciplinary collaborations in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
JournalJournal of Biosciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Biomaterials
  • biomedicine
  • biotechnology
  • engineering
  • interdisciplinary
  • origins of life
  • phase separation
  • protocell


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