Simplicity - Minimalism - Functionality
It's all coming together
Any molecule can transition between different states of matter, or so-called phases. Differential phase transitions of molecules in a mixture can allow for a phase separation to occur. For example, condensation of water vapor to water droplets results in the phase separation of water from air. Such water droplets can also transition to a solid state, for example as a snowflake.
Protein phase separation has emerged as a novel paradigm explaining the biogenesis of membraneless organelles and other so-called biomolecular condensates. Besides proteins, also other biopolymers have the ability to undergo phase transitions.
Building a framework
Of stickers and spacers
Biopolymers can be characterized according to the sticker-spacer framework, initially coined by Pappu and coworkers. Stickers provide intra- and interpolymer interaction sites, while spacers separate such interaction sites along the linear polymer sequence.
This structural framework is generalizable, tunable, and modular in nature, hereby providing the biomolecular architect with design flexibility and ready-to-assemble functional modules.
Liquids, gels and crystals
All matter can occur in different phases, and the same holds true for biopolymers. From diffuse gas-like states, to condensed phases with liquid or solid-like properties.
Altering the specific material properties of a condensate can tune its biochemical properties and biological function.
In composition and topology
Cellular biomolecular condensates are not simple homogeneous compartments. On the contrary, they often have hierarchic or multilayered topologies, and moreover recruit up to hundreds of specific clients.
Understanding the rules governing the emergence of this in vivo complexity will be key in figuring out how these condensates encode biological function.
Explore our catalogue of phase separation modules and start sculpting biological matter yourself.