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Physical mechanisms of cellular body formation

Compared to our understanding of interactions between individual biological molecules, the physical principles that govern cellular organization at the micron length scale remain elusive.

Salman Banani Research Image

One manifestation of organization at this scale is the existence of numerous punctate-staining structures in the cell, referred to as cellular bodies. While the hundreds of proteins or RNAs that are concentrated in these compartments have been catalogued, the physical mechanisms that give rise to the formation of these non-membrane bound organelles remain to be fully understood.

I am attempting to study the physical properties of the PML nuclear body as a model in hopes of learning general principles that govern nuclear body formation.

Recent studies in our lab have shown that multivalent molecules can undergo sharp transitions to form large polymeric assemblies that phase separate into liquid droplets.

Given that cellular bodies have been shown to have liquid like properties and that they contain numerous multivalent molecules, I am studying whether multivalent interactions can give rise to functional cellular bodies in cells and whether this functionality can be reconstituted in vitro.