New tool shines a light on protein condensation in living cells

Research
Posted on January 5, 2017

Toettcher

A tool that uses light to manipulate matter inside living cells has begun to explain how proteins assemble into different liquid and gel-like solid states, a key to understanding many critical cellular operations.

Marvels of complexity, cells host many thousands of simultaneous chemical reactions. Some reactions happen inside specialized compartments, called organelles. Certain organelles, however, lack any membrane to wall themselves off from the rest of the matter floating within cells. These membrane-less organelles somehow persist as self-contained structures amidst a cellular sea of water, proteins, nucleic acids and other molecules.

Scientists at Princeton University have developed a new tool — dubbed optoDroplet — that offers unprecedented access to manipulating and understanding the chemistry that allows membraneless organelles to function.