Melanins are natural biopolymers that have remarkable properties including UV-protection, coloration, and antioxidant activity. Their biosynthesis is regulated both spatially and temporally and involves supramolecular templating and compartmentalization of enzymes and reactants within specialized organelles called melanosomes. In contrast, the laboratory-based bulk synthesis of melanin by tyrosine or dopamine oxidation is a poorly controlled process, resulting in materials with undefined properties. Inspired by the pigment's biosynthesis, we developed a methodology to spatiotemporally regulate melanin formation in liquid droplets. The spatial control is achieved by sequestration of the reaction in dextran-rich droplets of a polyethylene glycol/dextran aqueous two-phase system, where the use of a photocleavable protected tyrosine provides a temporal control over its enzymatic oxidation-polymerization. We show that the liquid droplets allow for confined local reactivity as they serve as reaction centers for melanin synthesis and compartmentalize the melanin product. This methodology opens tremendous opportunities for applications in skincare and biomedicine.
- bioinspired materials
- liquid droplets
- phase separation
- reaction compartmentalization
- spatiotemporal control