Phase Transitions and Biological Condensates: The Molecular Sociology of Cell Organization

NOMIS Research Project

Despite massive global efforts, there are only a handful of transformational new drugs launched each year. While there are many reasons for this low productivity, there is widespread agreement that our lack of understanding of the fundamental causes of disease is at the heart of the problem. To discover new therapies at an accelerated rate, we need fundamental new knowledge and new approaches.

Our project, Phase Transitions and Biological Condensates: The Molecular Sociology of Cell Organization, proposes to change the way we study disease by using a fundamental discovery from my laboratory — namely, that many cells compartmentalize their biochemistry into liquid-like condensates, mediated by the disordered regions of proteins.

Over the years, my team has shown that many different cellular compartments are liquid-like, and form by phase separation. These are now termed condensates. We have also suggested that aberrant phase separation could be linked to disease. To test these ideas, we are developing methods to identify scaffold proteins that drive the formation of condensates as well as methods to manipulate condensate formation.

The Phase Transitions project is being led by Anthony Hyman, group leader at and a director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden, Germany).