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The circadian rhythm generates out-of-equilibrium metabolite oscillations that are controlled by feedback loops under light/dark cycles. Here we describe a non-equilibrium nanosystem comprising a binary population of enzyme-containing polymersomes capable of light-gated chemical communication, controllable feedback and coupling to macroscopic oscillations. The populations consist of esterase-containing polymersomes functionalized with photo-responsive donor-acceptor Stenhouse adducts (DASA) and light-insensitive semipermeable urease-loaded polymersomes. The DASA-polymersome membrane becomes permeable under green light, switching on esterase activity and decreasing the pH, which in turn initiates the production of alkali in the urease-containing population. A pH-sensitive pigment that absorbs green light when protonated provides a negative feedback loop for deactivating the DASA-polymersomes. Simultaneously, increased alkali production deprotonates the pigment, reactivating esterase activity by opening the membrane gate. We utilize light-mediated fluctuations of pH to perform non-equilibrium communication between the nanoreactors and use the feedback loops to induce work as chemomechanical swelling/deswelling oscillations in a crosslinked hydrogel. We envision possible applications in artificial organelles, protocells and soft robotics.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Chem

Publication Date





110 - 118


Feedback, Urease, Nanotechnology, Esterases