Analysis of biomolecular condensates and protein phase separation with microfluidic technology

Miriam Linsenmeier, Marie R.G. Kopp, Stavros Stavrakis, Andrew De Mello, Paolo Arosio
A B S T R A C T An increasing body of evidence shows that membraneless organelles are key components in cellular organization. These observations open a variety of outstanding questions about the physico-chemical rules underlying their assembly, disassembly and functions. Some molecular determinants of biomolecular condensates are challenging to probe and understand in complex in vivo systems. Minimalistic in vitro reconstitution approaches can fill this gap, mimicking key biological features,
more » ... hile maintaining sufficient simplicity to enable the analysis of fundamental aspects of biomolecular condensates. In this context, microfluidic technologies are highly attractive tools for the analysis of biomolecular phase transitions. In addition to enabling high-throughput measurements on small sample volumes, microfluidic tools provide for exquisite control of self-assembly in both time and space, leading to accurate quantitative analysis of biomolecular phase transitions. Here, with a specific focus on droplet-based microfluidics, we describe the advantages of microfluidic technology for the analysis of several aspects of phase separation. These include phase diagrams, dynamics of assembly and disassembly, rheological and surface properties, exchange of materials with the surrounding environment and the coupling between compartmentalization and biochemical reactions. We illustrate these concepts with selected examples, ranging from simple solutions of individual proteins to more complex mixtures of proteins and RNA, which represent synthetic models of biological membraneless organelles. Finally, we discuss how this technology may impact the bottom-up fabrication of synthetic artificial cells and for the development of synthetic protein materials in biotechnology.
doi:10.3929/ethz-b-000445405 fatcat:627r3yu2tvhjjfsiprqpxz42yq