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VIDEO: Shana Elbaum-Garfinkle on Emergent Material Properties of Biomolecular Condensates

On March 24, rising star Shana Elbaum-Garfinkle, from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, delivered a fantastic Kitchen Table Talk for Dewpoint and the community. Shana received her Ph.D. from Yale in molecular biophysics and biochemistry and then did a postdoc with Cliff Brangwynne at Princeton. She has since set up her own lab to study protein phase separation with the help of a prestigious career award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She uses a wide range of technologies including single molecule fluorescence, soft matter material science, and C. elegans genetics.

Shana’s career in condensates has already led to some amazing publications. Shana was the lead author on the highly cited 2015 PNAS paper which characterized the P granule protein LAF-1. She co-lead authored the very important 2015 Molecular Cell paper with Huaiying Zhang (see also Huaiying’s talk from last month) which demonstrated it is possible to fine-tune material properties of condensates using RNA. And she also collaborated on an important 2017 Nature Chemistry paper that further studied the role of IDRs in the function and behavior of LAF-1 and provides interesting ways to measure the mesh sizes of droplets.

Shana’s talk delves into her most recent work, published in Nature Communications, demonstrating how the different properties of arginine and lysine can drive tunable regulation of droplet formation and behavior. Watch the video below to join us in thinking about how arginine and lysine contribute to the miscibility of phases. Shana also raised the deep and profound question of how to pronounce “condensate.” At, we don’t care how you pronounce it as long as you keep talking about condensates, but you can check out the results of our Twitter poll here

Shani Elbaum-Garfinkle on Emergent Material Properties of Biomolecular Condensates

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Mark Murcko (00:00):
Hi, everybody. It’s great to see everybody here. It’s exciting today to have the chance to hear from Shani, who has of course now got her own lab at City University in New York, but she’s been doing amazing science for already so many years. She started out getting her PhD at Yale in biophysics and biochemistry, and then she did a postdoc with Cliff at Princeton, and then, of course, has set up her own lab and she’s, it’s of note that she’s won a very prestigious career award already from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to help her get the lab up and running.

Mark Murcko (00:36):
She really is a rising star in this whole condensate field. Amazing accomplishments already. Publications on Tau, Alpha Synuclein on the use of microfluidic methods to study condensates. She was the lead author on a very highly cited PNAS paper in 2015, which looked at LAF-1 in P granules. She was the co-lead author on another 2015 paper in Molecular Cell and Cliff was on that and also Amy Gladfelter that demonstrated the nature of these critical poly-glutamine interactions with RNA, and also was important because it demonstrated that it was possible to fine-tune the material properties of condensates using RNA.

Mark Murcko (01:23):
The last Kitchen Table Talk speaker we had, Huaiying was also the other co-lead author on that paper, so obviously, we all here think that’s great paper. She’s also just been active in the field more generally. She’s a co-author on a very important Nature Chemistry paper from 2017 that studied the role of IDRs in the function and behavior of that same protein LAF-1. There’s a really interesting trick in that paper, the ability to measure the mesh size of condensates and really getting at the whole length scale question of diffusion, very important problem.

Mark Murcko (02:00):
And now at CUNY, her lab, she’s continuing of course to study phase separation, in particular, with an emphasis on neurodegenerative disease and the aggregation of proteins in that space. And it’s a wide variety of technologies that she uses, single molecule fluorescence, soft matter of physics, genetics in C elegans. Obviously, a strong emphasis on RNA granules, and she just continues to do great work and pump out really interesting results that all of us should really be paying very close attention to.

Mark Murcko (02:34):
So, it’s really an honor, Shani, to have you here today, and your talk is titled Emergent Material Properties of Biomolecular Condensates. So, thanks for doing this. It’s great to have you.

Shani Elbaum-Garfinkle (02:43):
Wow. Thank you so much, Mark. That’s really an incredible introduction. I don’t even know how I can move on from there, but thank you so much. It’s really an honor to be invited and included in this really, really great series, this Kitchen Table Talk series. And so today, I’m going to hop around a little bit, but mostly speak about a recent paper where we’ll use model condensates, but talk more broadly about our focus on emergent material properties and why we love them, why we care so much about them, and why we try desperately to measure them in many different ways…

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