Liquid–liquid phase separation and related phase transitions have emerged as generic mechanisms in living cells for the formation of membraneless compartments or biomolecular condensates. The surface between two immiscible phases has an interfacial tension, generating capillary forces that can perform work on the surrounding environment. Here we present the physical principles of capillarity, including examples of how capillary forces structure multiphase condensates and remodel biological substrates. As with other mechanisms of intracellular force generation, for example, molecular motors, capillary forces can influence biological processes. Identifying the biomolecular determinants of condensate capillarity represents an exciting frontier, bridging soft matter physics and cell biology.
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