Cell biology Intelligent Design Self-Org. Theory

Scientists are divided: Is phase separation “sloppy science” or “groundbreaking idea”?

Spread the love

It’s one of those “self-organization” controversies where no one dares to admit they are talking about intelligent design:

Phase separation advocates hold that proteins and other molecules self-organize into denser structures inside cells, like oil drops forming in water. That spontaneous sorting, proponents assert, serves as a previously unrecognized mechanism for arranging the cell’s contents and mustering the molecules necessary to trigger key cellular events. McSwiggen had found hints that phase separation helps herpesviruses replicate inside infected cells, adding to claims that the process plays a role in functions as diverse as switching on genes, anchoring the cytoskeleton, and repairing damaged DNA. “It’s pretty clear this process is at play throughout the cell,” says biophysicist Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton University.

PHASE SEPARATION COULD ANSWER a fundamental question that has nagged biologists for more than 100 years: How do cells arrange their contents so that the molecules necessary to carry out a particular job are in the right place at the right time? One obvious way is with internal membranes, such as those fencing off the Golgi bodies and mitochondria. Yet many other well-known cellular structures, including the nucleolus—an organelle within the nucleus—and the RNA-processing Cajal bodies, lack membranes.

Phase separation is an appealing answer. Many proteins sport sticky patches that attract other proteins of the same or a different type.

Mitch Leslie, “Sloppy science or groundbreaking idea? Theory for how cells organize contents divides biologists” at Science

2 Replies to “Scientists are divided: Is phase separation “sloppy science” or “groundbreaking idea”?

  1. 1
    EvilSnack says:

    At this point phase separation is best referred to as “an untested hypothesis”.

    It doesn’t become a groundbreaking idea until tests bear it out, and it doesn’t become sloppy science unless someone treats it as proven before tests are conducted.

  2. 2
    Fasteddious says:

    But we’ve known for decades about hydrophilic and phobic ends of lipids, and + or – charges at special points on proteins attracting opposites. How are those well known effects inside cells any different from “phase separation”?

Leave a Reply