New tools illuminate mechanisms behind overlooked cellular components' critical roles

phys.org | 11/29/2018 | Staff
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Creating new tools that harness light to probe the mysteries of cellular behavior, Princeton researchers have made discoveries about the formation of cellular components called membraneless organelles and the key role these organelles play in cells.

In two papers published Nov. 29 in the journal Cell, researchers from multiple Princeton departments report on the conditions that lead to the formation of membraneless organelles and the impact that the formation has on cellular DNA.

Clifford - Brangwynne - Associate - Professor - Chemical

Clifford Brangwynne, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering and leader of the research teams, said the development of the two light-harnessing systems used in the research may prove at least as significant in the long run as the findings of the papers. The tools developed by the researchers allow scientists to accurately probe intracellular phase separation—the process by which the chaotic liquid matter inside cells transforms into functioning cellular compartments called membraneless organelles.

Long overlooked, these organelles have been shown to play critical roles in human health. The loss of their fluid-like consistency, for instance, is implicated in diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Previous work in Brangwynne's lab has shown the membraneless organelles play an important role in cell growth. And one of the two recent Cell papers demonstrates they also influence the genes controlling cellular behavior.

Technology - Systems - Phase - Transitions - Tools

"These technology systems we've recently developed to control intracellular phase transitions should prove to be powerful tools for basic research and have many applications, particularly with regard to human health," said Brangwynne, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

In the first project, the researchers developed a tool called Corelets and used it to create a quantitative description of the concentration of proteins driving phase separation in cells. Because protein concentrations help regulate the assembly of membraneless organelles, the description, called a phase diagram, will help researchers investigate...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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