Aqueous phase separation as a possible route to compartmentalization of biological molecules

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

142 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

How could the incredible complexity of modern cells evolve from something simple enough to have appeared in a primordial soup? This enduring question has sparked the interest of researchers since Darwin first considered his theory of natural selection. Organic molecules, even potentially functional molecules including peptides and nucleotides, can be produced abiotically. Amphiphiles such as surfactants and lipids display remarkable self-assembly processes including the spontaneous formation of vesicles resembling the membranes of living cells. Nonetheless, numerous questions remain. Given the presumably dilute concentrations of macromolecules in the prebiotic pools where the earliest cells are thought to have appeared, how could the necessary components become concentrated and encapsulated within a semipermeable membrane? What would drive the further structural complexity that is a hallmark of modern living systems? The interior of modern cells is subdivided into microcompartments such as the nucleoid of bacteria or the organelles of eukaryotic cells. Even within what at first appears to be a single compartment, for example, the cytoplasm or nucleus, chemical composition is often nonuniform, containing gradients, macromolecular assemblies, and/or liquid droplets. What might the internal structure of intermediate evolutionary forms have looked like?The nonideal aqueous solution chemistry of macromolecules offers an attractive possible answer to these questions. Aqueous polymer solutions will form multiple coexisting thermodynamic phases under a variety of readily accessible conditions. In this Account, we describe aqueous phase separation as a model system for biological compartmentalization in both early and modern cells, with an emphasis on systems that have been encapsulated within a lipid bilayer. We begin with an introduction to aqueous phase separation and discuss how this phenomenon can lead to microcompartmentalization and could facilitate biopolymer encapsulation by partitioning of solutes between the phases. We then describe primitive model cells based on phase separation inside lipid vesicles, which mimic several basic properties of biological cells: microcompartmentation, protein relocalization in response to stimulus, loss of symmetry, and asymmetric vesicle division. We observe these seemingly complex phenomena in the absence of genetic molecules, enzymes, or cellular machinery, and as a result these processes could provide clues to possible intermediates in the early evolution of cell-like assemblies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2114-2124
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Volume45
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 18 2012

Fingerprint

Phase separation
Macromolecules
Molecules
Membranes
Lipids
Prebiotics
Amphiphiles
Biopolymers
Lipid bilayers
Polymer solutions
Encapsulation
Surface-Active Agents
Self assembly
Machinery
Bacteria
Nucleotides
Cells
Thermodynamics
Peptides
Liquids

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)

Cite this

@article{04fcf486b96849fbaae90a6cc8234a2e,
title = "Aqueous phase separation as a possible route to compartmentalization of biological molecules",
abstract = "How could the incredible complexity of modern cells evolve from something simple enough to have appeared in a primordial soup? This enduring question has sparked the interest of researchers since Darwin first considered his theory of natural selection. Organic molecules, even potentially functional molecules including peptides and nucleotides, can be produced abiotically. Amphiphiles such as surfactants and lipids display remarkable self-assembly processes including the spontaneous formation of vesicles resembling the membranes of living cells. Nonetheless, numerous questions remain. Given the presumably dilute concentrations of macromolecules in the prebiotic pools where the earliest cells are thought to have appeared, how could the necessary components become concentrated and encapsulated within a semipermeable membrane? What would drive the further structural complexity that is a hallmark of modern living systems? The interior of modern cells is subdivided into microcompartments such as the nucleoid of bacteria or the organelles of eukaryotic cells. Even within what at first appears to be a single compartment, for example, the cytoplasm or nucleus, chemical composition is often nonuniform, containing gradients, macromolecular assemblies, and/or liquid droplets. What might the internal structure of intermediate evolutionary forms have looked like?The nonideal aqueous solution chemistry of macromolecules offers an attractive possible answer to these questions. Aqueous polymer solutions will form multiple coexisting thermodynamic phases under a variety of readily accessible conditions. In this Account, we describe aqueous phase separation as a model system for biological compartmentalization in both early and modern cells, with an emphasis on systems that have been encapsulated within a lipid bilayer. We begin with an introduction to aqueous phase separation and discuss how this phenomenon can lead to microcompartmentalization and could facilitate biopolymer encapsulation by partitioning of solutes between the phases. We then describe primitive model cells based on phase separation inside lipid vesicles, which mimic several basic properties of biological cells: microcompartmentation, protein relocalization in response to stimulus, loss of symmetry, and asymmetric vesicle division. We observe these seemingly complex phenomena in the absence of genetic molecules, enzymes, or cellular machinery, and as a result these processes could provide clues to possible intermediates in the early evolution of cell-like assemblies.",
author = "Keating, {Christine Dolan}",
year = "2012",
month = "12",
day = "18",
doi = "10.1021/ar200294y",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "45",
pages = "2114--2124",
journal = "Accounts of Chemical Research",
issn = "0001-4842",
publisher = "American Chemical Society",
number = "12",

}

Aqueous phase separation as a possible route to compartmentalization of biological molecules. / Keating, Christine Dolan.

In: Accounts of Chemical Research, Vol. 45, No. 12, 18.12.2012, p. 2114-2124.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Aqueous phase separation as a possible route to compartmentalization of biological molecules

AU - Keating, Christine Dolan

PY - 2012/12/18

Y1 - 2012/12/18

N2 - How could the incredible complexity of modern cells evolve from something simple enough to have appeared in a primordial soup? This enduring question has sparked the interest of researchers since Darwin first considered his theory of natural selection. Organic molecules, even potentially functional molecules including peptides and nucleotides, can be produced abiotically. Amphiphiles such as surfactants and lipids display remarkable self-assembly processes including the spontaneous formation of vesicles resembling the membranes of living cells. Nonetheless, numerous questions remain. Given the presumably dilute concentrations of macromolecules in the prebiotic pools where the earliest cells are thought to have appeared, how could the necessary components become concentrated and encapsulated within a semipermeable membrane? What would drive the further structural complexity that is a hallmark of modern living systems? The interior of modern cells is subdivided into microcompartments such as the nucleoid of bacteria or the organelles of eukaryotic cells. Even within what at first appears to be a single compartment, for example, the cytoplasm or nucleus, chemical composition is often nonuniform, containing gradients, macromolecular assemblies, and/or liquid droplets. What might the internal structure of intermediate evolutionary forms have looked like?The nonideal aqueous solution chemistry of macromolecules offers an attractive possible answer to these questions. Aqueous polymer solutions will form multiple coexisting thermodynamic phases under a variety of readily accessible conditions. In this Account, we describe aqueous phase separation as a model system for biological compartmentalization in both early and modern cells, with an emphasis on systems that have been encapsulated within a lipid bilayer. We begin with an introduction to aqueous phase separation and discuss how this phenomenon can lead to microcompartmentalization and could facilitate biopolymer encapsulation by partitioning of solutes between the phases. We then describe primitive model cells based on phase separation inside lipid vesicles, which mimic several basic properties of biological cells: microcompartmentation, protein relocalization in response to stimulus, loss of symmetry, and asymmetric vesicle division. We observe these seemingly complex phenomena in the absence of genetic molecules, enzymes, or cellular machinery, and as a result these processes could provide clues to possible intermediates in the early evolution of cell-like assemblies.

AB - How could the incredible complexity of modern cells evolve from something simple enough to have appeared in a primordial soup? This enduring question has sparked the interest of researchers since Darwin first considered his theory of natural selection. Organic molecules, even potentially functional molecules including peptides and nucleotides, can be produced abiotically. Amphiphiles such as surfactants and lipids display remarkable self-assembly processes including the spontaneous formation of vesicles resembling the membranes of living cells. Nonetheless, numerous questions remain. Given the presumably dilute concentrations of macromolecules in the prebiotic pools where the earliest cells are thought to have appeared, how could the necessary components become concentrated and encapsulated within a semipermeable membrane? What would drive the further structural complexity that is a hallmark of modern living systems? The interior of modern cells is subdivided into microcompartments such as the nucleoid of bacteria or the organelles of eukaryotic cells. Even within what at first appears to be a single compartment, for example, the cytoplasm or nucleus, chemical composition is often nonuniform, containing gradients, macromolecular assemblies, and/or liquid droplets. What might the internal structure of intermediate evolutionary forms have looked like?The nonideal aqueous solution chemistry of macromolecules offers an attractive possible answer to these questions. Aqueous polymer solutions will form multiple coexisting thermodynamic phases under a variety of readily accessible conditions. In this Account, we describe aqueous phase separation as a model system for biological compartmentalization in both early and modern cells, with an emphasis on systems that have been encapsulated within a lipid bilayer. We begin with an introduction to aqueous phase separation and discuss how this phenomenon can lead to microcompartmentalization and could facilitate biopolymer encapsulation by partitioning of solutes between the phases. We then describe primitive model cells based on phase separation inside lipid vesicles, which mimic several basic properties of biological cells: microcompartmentation, protein relocalization in response to stimulus, loss of symmetry, and asymmetric vesicle division. We observe these seemingly complex phenomena in the absence of genetic molecules, enzymes, or cellular machinery, and as a result these processes could provide clues to possible intermediates in the early evolution of cell-like assemblies.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84870187166&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84870187166&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1021/ar200294y

DO - 10.1021/ar200294y

M3 - Article

C2 - 22330132

AN - SCOPUS:84870187166

VL - 45

SP - 2114

EP - 2124

JO - Accounts of Chemical Research

JF - Accounts of Chemical Research

SN - 0001-4842

IS - 12

ER -