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  • Writer's pictureVedant Parikh

Lab Notes on: Biomolecular Condensates

Aidan Welch's notes on biomolecular condensates.

 

The knowledge that DNA is coiled into chromosomes during cell division is a reminder that the molecules that hold the instructions to build organisms’ and their babies’ bodies condense into molecular “X” shaped structures called chromosomes when their cells divide to multiply (mitosis and meiosis). However, despite the importance DNA/chromosomes play in inheritance, Science’s ability to manipulate these molecules has not been far developed. But a step towards that power has been recently taken.


Professor Clifford Brangwyne’s research team at Princeton University had been experimenting with moving intracellular masses using condensates (membrane-less molecular structures that carry out a function). In one particular experiment, the team decided to use acondensate dubbed VECTOR (ViscoElastic Chromatin Tethering and ORganization) to alter the position of different DNA strands (chromatin in this context) on chromosomes during cell division


A brief explanation of VECTOR: VECTOR is a conglomerate of molecules, which expands when exposed to light (photoactivated). This enlarged protein will bind to different chromatin strands on a chromosome residing at designated areas (DNA loci), and when the light is no longer being applied, the protein will shrink, pulling the chromatin with it using molecular cohesion and adhesion (capillary action).

The experiment proved a success. The team was successfully able to significantly change the position of chromatin using VECTOR, even though the chromatin would return to its original location after a few minutes. Despite this, this result demonstrated the evidence for humanity’s potential to manipulate DNA and its structures.


This was not the only impactful result in the study, however. The researchers were also able to successfully hypothesize the material that chromatin is made of Before the study, chromatin was loosely assumed to be a purely elastic type material, but experimentation proved it may be more fluidlike than once thought. Due to its rate of change of deformation it was deduced that chromatin is a viscoelastic liquid.


In summary, the team’s study was able to hypothesize the material type of chromatin fibers, and discover a way to orient different chromosomal loci. This provides an insight towards understanding chromosomes’ structure, and also marks a stride towards scientists’ capabilities to influence them. With this capability—coupled with even more in depth knowledge of chromosome structure and its DNA loci—earthlings’ biological blueprints can be altered for selective inheritance to direct the traits of offspring, such as attempting to decrease the chances of mutation or disease.


Since this study is from this year (2023), it is likely that the research team at Princeton will provide update(s) on this study in months and years to come. The discoveries they may find in the following years could be game changing, and they are without a doubt highly anticipated.



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