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


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.

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

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anne L. van de Ven.

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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.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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

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Jacob Barlow and Kevin Gozzi contributed equally to this work.

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Barlow, J., Gozzi, K., Kelley, C.P. et al. High throughput microencapsulation of Bacillus subtilis in semi-permeable biodegradable polymersomes for selenium remediation. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 101, 455–464 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-016-7896-7

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  • Microparticles
  • Microfluidics
  • Double-emulsion
  • Bacteria
  • Biofilm
  • Selenite
  • Nanoparticles