A team of researchers has developed a microfluidic device that produces a continuous supply of tiny lipid spheres that are similar in many ways to a cell's outer membrane and hope the development leads them closer to producing artificial cells.

"Cells are essentially small, complex bioreactors enclosed by phospholipid membranes," said Abraham Lee from the University of California, Irvine.

The researchers said that they have developed a single system that performs all the steps to create lipid vesicles without contamination.

The journal Biomicrofluidics reports that the new microfluidic design overcomes these previous hurdles by generating and manipulating precisely sized droplets of water in an oil environment, which produces and oil and water membrane that serves as a scaffold around which lipids molecules assemble.

The American Institute of Physics, which publishes the journal, says the membrane dissolves over time and “the accumulated lipids form a stable, uniform vesicle that shares many of a natural cell membrane's chemical and physical attributes.”

The main goal of the research is to produce an artificial cell and artificial cell membrane to help with future biology research.

"Effectively producing vesicles with lipid membranes that mimic those of natural cells is a valuable tool for fundamental biology research, and it's also an important first step in the hoped-for production of an artificial cell."