Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 455–464 | Cite as

High throughput microencapsulation of Bacillus subtilis in semi-permeable biodegradable polymersomes for selenium remediation

  • Jacob Barlow
  • Kevin Gozzi
  • Chase P. Kelley
  • Benjamin M. Geilich
  • Thomas J. Webster
  • Yunrong Chai
  • Srinivas Sridhar
  • Anne L. van de VenEmail author
Environmental biotechnology


Encapsulating bacteria within constrained microenvironments can promote the manifestation of specialized behaviors. Using double-emulsion droplet-generating microfluidic synthesis, live Bacillus subtilis bacteria were encapsulated in a semi-permeable membrane composed of poly(ethylene glycol)-b-poly(d,l-lactic acid) (mPEG-PDLLA). This polymer membrane was sufficiently permeable to permit exponential bacterial growth, metabolite-induced gene expression, and rapid biofilm growth. The biodegradable microparticles retained structural integrity for several days and could be successfully degraded with time or sustained bacterial activity. Microencapsulated B. subtilis successfully captured and contained sodium selenite added outside the polymersomes, converting the selenite into elemental selenium nanoparticles that were selectively retained inside the polymer membrane. This remediation of selenium using polymersomes has high potential for reducing the toxicity of environmental selenium contamination, as well as allowing selenium to be harvested from areas not amenable to conventional waste or water treatment.


Microparticles Microfluidics Double-emulsion Bacteria Biofilm Selenite Nanoparticles 



Special thanks to Alireza Abbaspourrad and David A. Weitz for the demonstration of double-emulsion microfluidic device assembly techniques.

Compliance with ethical standards


This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) DGE-0965843, Department of Defense (DOD) W81XWH-09-2-0001, National Cancer Institute (NCI) 1R25CA174650-01A, a startup grant from Northeastern University, and the Electronics Materials Research Institute at Northeastern University. Undergraduates J.B., K.G., and C.K. were supported by the Northeastern University Provost Undergraduate Research Award, Honors Early Research Grant, and Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacob Barlow
    • 1
  • Kevin Gozzi
    • 2
  • Chase P. Kelley
    • 1
  • Benjamin M. Geilich
    • 3
  • Thomas J. Webster
    • 1
    • 4
  • Yunrong Chai
    • 2
  • Srinivas Sridhar
    • 5
    • 6
  • Anne L. van de Ven
    • 5
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of BioengineeringNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  4. 4.Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials ResearchKing Abdulaziz UniversityJeddahSaudi Arabia
  5. 5.Department of PhysicsNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA
  6. 6.Nanomedicine Science and Technology CenterNortheastern UniversityBostonUSA

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