MIT scientists have made a significant breakthrough in understanding the formation of biomolecular condensates, which play vital roles in living cells. The researchers have discovered that a specific protein, known as TCOF1, is essential for the formation of one of these condensates in the nucleolus, a key department responsible for the creation of ribosomes.
Before this discovery, the nucleolus was divided into two compartments, but about 300 million years ago, a third condensate emerged in the nucleolus of amniotes, including reptiles, birds, and mammals. The presence of TCOF1 is believed to explain this important evolutionary change.
The scientists conducted experiments with zebra embryos, which typically have a double nucleolus. By introducing TCOF1 into these embryos, the researchers were able to induce the formation of the third compartment in the nucleolus. This suggests that the presence of TCOF1 alone is sufficient to alter the composition of organoids.
Furthermore, the researchers propose that TCOF1 also plays a crucial role in the evolution of cellular condensates. It is speculated that the first condensates were initially formed using a single protein framework, which gradually became more complex over time.
These findings have important implications for the study of diseases associated with the formation of biomolecular condensates, such as lateral amyotrophic sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, and cancer. The researchers believe that understanding the process of condensate formation could lead to new treatment methods for these conditions.
The study, conducted by MIT graduates NIMA Dzhaber-Lashkari and Byron Lee, along with researcher Fardin Aryan, has been published in the journal Cell Reports.