Living Droplets Get To Work
Cells need to organize chemical reactions. In the classical view, lipid bilayer membranes define the boundaries of organelles – cellular sub-compartments with distinct chemical compositions. Recently, a number of liquid-like domains enriched in specific proteins and nucleic acids have been identified. While these membraneless organelles fulfill clear biochemical functions, they can potentially play mechanical roles.
In this seminar, I will describe a series of experiments that span live cells, in vitro biochemical systems, and synthetic materials. Together, they demonstrate three distinct ways that membraneless organelles could perform mechanical work. In equilibrium, droplets’ interfacial energy drives adhesion and deformation. Near equilibrium, free energy liberated by condensation allows growing droplets to deform their surroundings. Far from equilibrium, chemical reactions localized to droplets can create chemical gradients that drive flow.
We hope that these basic physical insights will help us to understand the physiology of cells and inspire new approaches to the design of synthetic materials.
Hosted by Professor Zheng Shi