Agarose gels were prepared by dissolving 1 g of type I agarose (Sigma-Aldrich) in 100 ml of bidistilled water. The solution was then autoclaved for 30 min. Agarose solution gelified quickly at RT; therefore, stock gels were first melted in a microwave oven at 500 W for 30 s. To produce cubic or cylindric hydrogels, hot agarose solutions were poured in polyethylene molds, which were then placed in a 4°C fridge for 2 hours. Molds containing hydrogels were rinsed in abundant water at RT, and the hydrogels were gently detached from the molds with a spatula. Hydrogel spheres were produced by dripping hot agarose solution from a 10-ml plastic syringe in an ice-cold water bath, thus obtaining 3-mm spheres.

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