Synthetic Organelle Shows How Tiny Puddle-Organs in our Cells Work

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In a vile three watery solutions phase separate into three layers. In membraneless organelles, chemical reactions occur at the interfaces of such layers, processing a reactant step-by-step and moving the reaction product from one layer to the next. Credit: Georgia Tech / Rob Felt

An illustration of part of a synthetic organelle without a membrane. Here we see two layers that phase separate like oil and water, but both layers are water. There is no oil. Each layer contains a different solute that gives it its own chemical thermodynamics, keeping it separate from the other one. Chemical reactions cascade from one layer to the next in a chain reaction. The molecules illustrated on the outside are sugars called dextran, a solute. The gray middle layer contains an enzyme, depicted as small yellow spheres that would carry out a step in the reaction cascade. Credit: Georgia Tech (objects not to scale)

Principal investigator Shuichi Takayama and first author Taisuke Kojima in Takayama's lab at Georgia Tech. Credit: Georgia Tech / Rob Felt

Inside the nucleus, seen here as a purple sphere, is a smaller purple sphere, the nucleolus, which is the most prominent membraneless organelle in our cells. Credit: CNX OpenStax /  Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/e42bd376-624b-4c0f-972f-e0c57998e765@4.4  / commons license

The nucleolus, at the center of the cell's nucleus, is the most prominent organelle without a membrane. It was once thought that it disappeared during cell division then reappeared. Since it exists in solution, in reality, it gets shaken up into pieces that come back together as one piece again. Credit: CNX OpenStax /  Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/e42bd376-624b-4c0f-972f-e0c57998e765@4.4  / commons license

Shuichi Takayama is a professor in the Wallace E. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. Credit: Georgia Tech / Rob Felt

Tai Kojima is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Shu Takayama, in the Wallace E. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. Credit: Georgia Tech / Rob Felt