"We believe this is the first time that phase separation has been implicated in cancer metastasis," said Yibin Kang, the Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology. He is the senior author on a new paper featured on the cover of the current issue of Nature Cell Biology.
Not only does their work tie phase separations to cancer research, but the merging blobs turned out to create more than the sum of their parts, self-assembling into a previously unknown organelle (essentially an organ of the cell).
Discovering a new organelle is revolutionary, Kang said. He compared it to finding a new planet within our solar system. "Some organelles we have known for 100 years or more, and then all of a sudden, we found a new one!"
This will shift some fundamental perceptions of what a cell is and does, said Mark Esposito, a 2017 Ph.D. alumnus and current postdoc in Kang's lab who is the first author on the new paper. "Everybody goes to school, and they learn 'The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,' and a few other things about a few organelles, but now, our classic definition of what's inside a cell, of how a cell organizes itself and controls its behavior, is starting to shift," he said. "Our research marks a very concrete step forward in that."