Proximity to criticality predicts surface properties of biomolecular condensates

Andrew G.T. Pyo, Yaojun Zhang, Ned S. Wingreen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


It has recently become appreciated that cells self-organize their interiors through the formation of biomolecular condensates. These condensates, typically formed through liquid–liquid phase separation of proteins, nucleic acids, and other biopolymers, exhibit reversible assembly/disassembly in response to changing conditions. Condensates play many functional roles, aiding in biochemical reactions, signal transduction, and sequestration of certain components. Ultimately, these functions depend on the physical properties of condensates, which are encoded in the microscopic features of the constituent biomolecules. In general, the mapping from microscopic features to macroscopic properties is complex, but it is known that near a critical point, macroscopic properties follow power laws with only a small number of parameters, making it easier to identify underlying principles. How far does this critical region extend for biomolecular condensates and what principles govern condensate properties in the critical regime? Using coarse-grained molecular-dynamics simulations of a representative class of biomolecular condensates, we found that the critical regime can be wide enough to cover the full physiological range of temperatures. Within this critical regime, we identified that polymer sequence influences surface tension predominately via shifting the critical temperature. Finally, we show that condensate surface tension over a wide range of temperatures can be calculated from the critical temperature and a single measurement of the interface width.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2220014120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • biomolecular condensates
  • critical phenomena
  • molecular-dynamics
  • phase separation
  • surface tension


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