Hydrogels are hydrophilic, porous polymer networks that can absorb up to thousands of times their own weight in water. They have many potential applications, one of which is the encapsulation of freestanding black lipid membranes (BLMs) for novel separation technologies or biosensor applications. We investigated gels for in situ encapsulation of multiple BLMs formed across apertures in a hydrophobic ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) support. The encapsulation gels consisted of networks of poly(ethylene glycol)-dimethacrylate or poly(ethylene glycol)-diacrylate polymerized using either a chemical initiator or a photoinitiator. The hydrogels were studied with regards to volumetric stability, porosity, and water permeability. All hydrogels had pore sizes around 7 nm with volumetric changes >2% upon crosslinking. Photoinitiated hydrogels had a lower hydraulic water permeability compared to chemically initiated hydrogels; however, for all hydrogels the permeability was several-fold higher than the water permeability of conventional reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. Lifetimes of freestanding BLM arrays in gel precursor solutions were short compared to arrays formed in buffer. However, polymerizing (crosslinking) the gel stabilized the membranes and resulted in BLM arrays that remained intact for days. This is a substantial improvement over lifetimes for freestanding BLM arrays. Optical images of the membranes and single channel activity of incorporated gramicidin ion channels showed that the lipid membranes retained their integrity and functionality after encapsulation with hydrogel. Our results show that hydrogel encapsulation is a potential means to provide stability for biomimetic devices based on functional proteins reconstituted in biomimetic membrane arrays.
- Biomimetic membrane arrays
- Voltage clamp