Overview: Cellular Physical Chemistry Group

Cells cluster biomolecules to form membrane-less organelles known as biological condensates which are best characterized as liquid-like phases. Unlike simpler liquids, such as oil in water, biological condensates are quite complicated; for example, they contain many distinct biomolecules and are the location of many active processes. While biological condensates have been known for more than a century and are the location for the production, modification, and/or assembly of macromolecules; a detailed picture of their form and function is in its infancy.

The current focus of the Cellular Physical Chemistry Group (i.e., Riback Lab) is to develop our understanding of both the unique physical properties and the biological roles of condensates in cells for the purpose of rigorously describing how condensate form and function is impacted upon cellular remodeling during and following differentiation, oncogenesis, and aging.

Current budding avenues involve projects which intersect the three topics listed below.

Molecular determinants for the recruitment of biomolecules into biological condensates

How do molecules get recruited and/or scaffold condensates? To answer this question, we are developing new methods, drawing primarily from the tools of biophysical chemistry and polymer physics, to elucidate the molecular basis for a molecule's transfer into condensates.

Chaperone action of biological condensates on the assembly of macromolecules

Condensates are the location for the production, processing, assembly, and/or location of action for large macromolecules such as the ribosome and spliceosome. We are elucidating the mechanisms by which condensates chaperone macromolecular assembly.

Compositional changes in biological condensates during cellular responses

The composition, size, and number of condensates changes in response to normal and aberrant cellular signals. We are interested in understanding how condensates change during model oncogenesis and differentiation.