Wet-dry cycling on the early Earth is thought to have facilitated production of molecular building blocks of life, but its impact on self-assembly and compartmentalization remains largely unexplored. Here, we investigate dehydration/rehydration of complex coacervates, which are membraneless compartments formed by phase separation of polyelectrolyte solutions. Solution compositions are identified for which tenfold water loss results in maintenance, disappearance, or appearance of coacervate droplets. Systems maintaining coacervates throughout the dehydration process are further evaluated to understand how their compartmentalization properties change with drying. Although added total RNA concentrations increase tenfold, RNA concentration within coacervates remains steady. Exterior RNA concentrations rise, and exchange rates for encapsulated versus free RNAs increase with dehydration. We explain these results in light of the phase diagram, with dehydration-driven ionic strength increase being particularly important in determining coacervate properties. This work shows that wet-dry cycling can alter the phase behavior and protocell-relevant functions of complex coacervates.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)