Designing communicating colonies of biomimetic microcapsules
German V. Kolmakov, Victor V. Yashin, Steven P. Levitan, and Anna C. Balazs
PNAS July 13, 2010 vol. 107 no. 28 12417-12422 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1001950107
Using computational modeling, we design colonies of biomimetic microcapsules that exploit chemical mechanisms to communicate and alter their local environment. As a result, these synthetic objects can self-organize into various autonomously moving structures and exhibit ant-like tracking behavior. In the simulations, signaling microcapsules release agonist particles, whereas target microcapsules release antagonist particles and the permeabilities of both capsule types depend on the local particle concentration in the surrounding solution. Additionally, the released nanoscopic particles can bind to the underlying substrate and thereby create adhesion gradients that propel the microcapsules to move. Hydrodynamic interactions and the feedback mechanism provided by the dissolved particles are both necessary to achieve the collective dynamics exhibited by these colonies. Our model provides a platform for integrating both the spatial and temporal behavior of assemblies of “artificial cells,” and allows us to design a rich variety of structures capable of exhibiting complex, cooperative behavior. Due to the cell-like attributes of polymeric microcapsules and polymersomes, material systems are available for realizing our predictions.