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Research reveals complexity of phase separation

Memphis, Tennessee, May 6, 2020

Man in blue shirt is looking forward and smiling.

Co-senior author Richard Kriwacki, PhD, Structural Biology, has helped study how multiple components interact with complex condensates.

Cells organize many of their contents into smaller units. Some of these units lack a surrounding membrane and are called condensates. They form via a process called phase separation. 

For years, scientists have been trying to find out what drives the formation of membraneless condensates. Often, the research has generally focused on phase separation by single proteins in simple systems. Less has been known about the phase separation of multiple components to form complex cellular condensates. 

Now, St. Jude and Princeton University scientists have helped us learn how multiple components interact with complex condensates. The researchers studied a condensate called the nucleolus. The nucleolus contains hundreds of components that work together to assemble molecular machines called ribosomes.

The work shows that the components of condensates affect each other’s phase separation behavior.

“Our data describes how multi-component phase separation enables ribosomes to assemble within and ultimately leave the nucleolus to function in other parts of the cell,” said co-senior author Richard Kriwacki, PhD, Structural Biology.

Nature published a report on this work.

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