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Brangwynne's phase separation creates "order in the crowded chaos of the cell" (Nature)

Oil and light art: Steve Pavlovsky / Liquid Light Lab

(Oil and light art: Steve Pavlovsky / Liquid Light Lab)

For more than a century, biologists ignored a fundamental question about how cells do the business of sorting molecules in a crowd. Then came Cliff Brangwynne, whose surprising work showed that certain proteins separate into globules much like droplets of vinegar suspended in oil. The finding, which revived previously dismissed ideas about biophysical mechanics, launched a new paradigm in cell biology: liquid-liquid phase separation.

Bragnwynne has since become associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton, opened his lab, dubbed the Soft Living Matter Group, and greatly expanded the scope of his original discovery. With the development of new tools and a recent surge in biomedical and pharmaceutical translations, the frontier looks to be expanding rapidly.

A 14 March news feature in the journal Nature outlines the history, impact and current outlook of Brangwynne’s work.