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The Keating Group

Understanding subcellular organization through liquid-liquid phase separation

The Keating Group loves Biology but loves Chemistry even more.  Our goal is to utilize Chemistry principles and phenomena to better understand how Biology assembles and organizes.  The most important aspect to life is organization.  Biology delegates its different functions to different organs and compartments.  Organization is just as important at the subcellular level, where the different functions are delegated by the different organelles.  Most organelles are coated with a lipid membrane that serves as a semi-permeable boundary.  In recent years, researchers have observed subcellular compartments that lack membranes.  These so-called “membraneless organelles” are liquid droplets that subsist alongside the other organelles.  The Keating Group uses liquid-phase systems known as all-aqueous emulsions to model and study types of membraneless organelles. Most are familiar with the liquid-phase separation that occurs between oil and water, such as a separated salad dressing.  As the name implies, all-aqueous emulsions are entirely water-based, where the separation is driven by trace polymers in the solution such as peptides or sugars.  Our lab has even created simple artificial cells from these systems, with multiple, distinct liquid phase compartments.  Now, the Keating Group is leveraging its expertise in this project.  Our multi-phase all-aqueous emulsions will serve as the metaphorical framework for the various reactions performed by the ProteoCell.      


The Members

What excites you about ProteoCell?


"The scientific process is all about testing your previous assertions to discover something new.  By gathering experts of varying expertise, we can challenge preconceptions on what is necessary to create the most basic unit of life.  I am very excited to work alongside such diverse and talented researchers!"

What is your lab's role in ProteoCell?


"My lab is broadly interested in how the microscopic organization of materials gives rise to their properties. As physical and materials chemists, we focus on the self-assembly aspects of the ProteoCell project, in particular the formation of polypeptide-rich liquid droplets that we hypothesize can serve as both an artificial cytoplasm and subcellular membraneless organelles inside the ProteoCells."

What brings you excitement to do 'Science?'

"What attracted me to science is a desire to try and understand how the world works. Understanding how simple chemical reactions gives rise to living things is one area of science we still know very little about. If I can contribute a little amount to this understanding, I'd be very happy."

Multiphase coacervates.png

Distinct coexisting liquid compartments on the subcellular scale 

Fluorescence confocal microscopy images of layered complex coacervate phases in a single sample.  A) Bright channel; B) fluorescent channel overlay.  Each coacervate phase is comprised of two oppositely charged polymers.  The added false color to the fluorescent signals illustrate the different polymers used to create each distinct coacervate phase.

Mountain, G. A.; Keating, C. D. Biomacromolecules 2020, 21, 630−640

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