Artificially reproducing cellular environments is a key aim of synthetic biology, which has the potential to greatly enhance our understanding of cellular mechanisms. Microfluidic and lab-on-a-chip (LOC) techniques, which enable the controlled handling of sub-microlitre volumes of fluids in an automated and high-throughput manner, can play a major role in achieving this by offering alternative and powerful methodologies in an on-chip format. Such techniques have been successfully employed over the last twenty years to provide innovative solutions for chemical analysis and cell-, molecular- and synthetic- biology. In the context of the latter, the formation of artificial cell membranes (or artificial lipid bilayers) that incorporate membrane proteins within miniaturised LOC architectures offers huge potential for the development of highly sensitive molecular sensors and drug screening applications. The aim of this review is to give a comprehensive and critical overview of the field of microsystems for creating and exploiting artificial lipid bilayers. Advantages and limitations of three of the most popular approaches, namely suspended, supported and droplet-based lipid bilayers, are discussed. Examples are reported that show how artificial cell membrane microsystems, by combining together biological procedures and engineering techniques, can provide novel methodologies for basic biological and biophysical research and for the development of biotechnology tools.
- artificial cellular environments
- synthetic biology