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Predicting protein phase separation

Memphis, Tennessee, February 6, 2020

From left to right, collaborators Dr. Ivan Peran, Dr. Erik Martin and Dr. Tanja Mittag, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The group was recently published in Science.

From left to right, Dr. Ivan Peran, Dr. Erik Martin and Dr. Tanja Mittag, in the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance lab at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

St. Jude and Washington University are studying liquid-liquid phase separation. Cells sort and separate proteins and other components through the process.

Intrinsically disordered proteins lack structure. Some of them can also drive liquid-liquid phase separation. Researchers have developed a way to predict how proteins phase separate. The answer will help scientists studying how these proteins contribute to disease. 

“Predicting phase separation is important because it is involved in many cellular processes as well as disease,” said Tanja Mittag, Ph.D., of Structural Biology

The team identified chemical groups they dubbed stickers that are present on proteins and guide their interactions. These stickers drive phase separation. They also found stretches of protein, called spacers, that keep the stickers in specific patterns.

This led to the creation of a stickers-and-spacers model. Researchers can use the model to predict how proteins will phase separate.

This work was part of the St. Jude Research Collaborative on Membraneless Organelles in Health and Disease.

Science published a report on this work. 

Read the full News Release.

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