Cells organize their interior through membrane-bound organelles and through membraneless condensates that are formed by liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS). The complex process of coacervation that is involved in LLPS is challenging to study in living cells. Hence, studying coacervation in cell-mimicking synthetic containers can yield valuable insights. Here, we review recent progress with respect to studying LLPS (particularly coacervation) in artificial compartments, from water-in-oil droplets to membranous liposomes. We describe different strategies to form and control coacervates in microconfinements and to study their physicochemical and biological characteristics. We also describe how coacervation can itself be used in container formation. This review highlights the importance of in vitro coacervate studies for understanding cellular biology and for designing synthetic cells.
- Liquid–liquid phase separation