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What looks a little like distant planets with some mysterious surface features are actually assemblies of proteins normally found in the cell's nucleolus, a small but very important protein complex located in the cell's nucleus. It forms on the chromosomes at the location where the genes for the RNAs are that make up the structure of the ribosome, the indispensable cellular machine that makes proteins from messenger RNAs. However, how the nucleolus grows and maintains its structure has puzzled scientists for some time. It turns out that even though it looks like a simple liquid blob, it's rather well-organized, consisting of three distinct layers: the fibrillar center, where the RNA polymerase is active; the dense fibrillar component, which is enriched in the protein fibrillarin; and the granular component, which contains a protein called nucleophosmin. Researchers have now discovered that this multilayer structure of the nucleolus arises from differences in how the proteins in each compartment mix with water and with each other. These differences let the proteins readily separate from each other into the three nucleolus compartments. This photo of nucleolus proteins in the eggs of a commonly used lab animal, the frog Xenopus laevis, shows each of the nucleolus compartments (the granular component is shown in red, the fibrillarin in yellow-green, and the fibrillar center in blue). The researchers have found that these compartments spontaneously fuse with each other on encounter without mixing with the other compartments. For more details on this research, see this press release from Princeton. Related to video 3789, video 3791 and image 3793.
Nilesh Vaidya, Princeton University
Nilesh Vaidya and Clifford Brangwynne, Princeton University
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