Pearce, Samuel and Juan Perez-Mercader

The ability of living organisms such as cells and bacteria to create intricate and precise structures through the self-organization, segregation and assembly of their building blocks from simpler molecules found in their environment is vital for their morphologies and functions. The encapsulation of the essential ingredients for life within a semi-permeable membrane is widely accepted to have been a key event in the origin of life. Within this membrane a state far-from-equilibrium is maintained, which provides energetic conditions enabling complex functionalities such as adaptation and reproduction through internal metabolic processes. Polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA) is a rapidly-developing method to produce polymersomes, or polymer vesicles, which can be considered as a synthetic analogy to vesicles with a lipid bilayer. Though to express the range of functions that systems that exhibit the basic functionalities of early life is indeed a challenge, PISA offers a particularly robust “boot up” mechanism which solves some of the challenges associated with the emergence of life. Recent advances in the exploitable chemistries applied to PISA expand the scope of complex nano-to-micron scale vesicular structures autonomously generated from a homogeneous mixture in mild conditions. This could ultimately lead to the achievement of synthesizing objects capable of mimicking basic behaviors and functions of natural life. Herein, we discuss the principles, syntheses and recent advances in the controlled formation of functional vesicle structures produced by PISA, while highlighting the exciting opportunities that can be explored in this emerging field.