As expressed “God made the bulk; the surface was invented by the devil” by W. Pauli, the surface has remarkable properties because broken symmetry in surface alters the material properties. In biological systems, the smallest functional and structural unit, which has a functional bulk space enclosed by a thin interface, is a cell. Cells contain inner cytosolic soup in which genetic information stored in DNA can be expressed through transcription (TX) and translation (TL). The exploration of cell-sized confinement has been recently investigated by using micron-scale droplets and microfluidic devices. In the first part of this review article, we describe recent developments of cell-free bioreactors where bacterial TX-TL machinery and DNA are encapsulated in these cell-sized compartments. Since synthetic biology and microfluidics meet toward the bottom-up assembly of cell-free bioreactors, the interplay between cellular geometry and TX-TL advances better control of biological structure and dynamics in vitro system. Furthermore, biological systems that show self-organization in confined space are not limited to a single cell, but are also involved in the collective behavior of motile cells, named active matter. In the second part, we describe recent studies where collectively ordered patterns of active matter, from bacterial suspensions to active cytoskeleton, are self-organized. Since geometry and topology are vital concepts to understand the ordered phase of active matter, a microfluidic device with designed compartments allows one to explore geometric principles behind self-organization across the molecular scale to cellular scale. Finally, we discuss the future perspectives of a microfluidic approach to explore the further understanding of biological systems from geometric and topological aspects.
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