Cellular surface breaks the symmetry of molecular diffusion across membrane. Here, we study how steric interactions between the surface and the bulk of cell-sized emulsion droplets alters gene expression emulated by a cell-free transcription/translation (TXTL) system. The concentration of synthesized reporter proteins in droplets of radius R shows an anomalous geometric scaling of R4 different from the expected size-dependence of R3. Given that TXTL becomes less efficient at thin surface layer, a mathematical model explains the anomalous size-dependence found in experiment. The surface of cell-sized compartment can thus play a regulatory role for cell-free gene expression.
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