In Aqua Veritas: The Indispensable Yet Mostly Ignored Role of Water in Phase Separation and Membrane-less Organelles

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Despite the common practice of presenting structures of biological molecules on an empty background and the assumption that interactions between biological macromolecules take place within the inert solvent, water represents an active component of various biological processes. This Perspective addresses indispensable, yet mostly ignored, roles of water in biological liquid–liquid phase transitions and in the biogenesis of various proteinaceous membrane-less organelles. We point out that changes in the structure of water reflected in the changes in its abilities to donate and/or accept hydrogen bonds and participate in dipole–dipole and dipole–induced dipole interactions in the presence of various solutes (ranging from small molecules to synthetic polymers and biological macromolecules) might represent a driving force for the liquid–liquid phase separation, define partitioning of various solutes in formed phases, and define the exceptional ability of intrinsically disordered proteins to be engaged in the formation of proteinaceous membrane-less organelles.

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American Chemical Society, v. 57, issue 17, p. 2437-2451