Emergent properties of melanin-inspired peptide/RNA condensates

Amit Netzer, Itai Katzir, Avigail Baruch Leshem, Michal Weitman, Ayala Lampel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Most biocatalytic processes in eukaryotic cells are regulated by subcellular microenvironments such as membrane-bound or membraneless organelles. These natural compartmentalization systems have inspired the design of synthetic compartments composed of a variety of building blocks. Recently, the emerging field of liquid–liquid phase separation has facilitated the design of biomolecular condensates composed of proteins and nucleic acids, with controllable properties including polarity, diffusivity, surface tension, and encapsulation efficiency. However, utilizing phase-separated condensates as optical sensors has not yet been attempted. Here, we were inspired by the biosynthesis of melanin pigments, a key biocatalytic process that is regulated by compartmentalization in organelles, to design minimalistic biomolecular condensates with emergent optical properties. Melanins are ubiquitous pigment materials with a range of functionalities including photoprotection, coloration, and free radical scavenging activity. Their biosynthesis in the confined melanosomes involves oxidation-polymerization of tyrosine (Tyr), catalyzed by the enzyme tyrosinase. We have now developed condensates that are formed by an interaction between a Tyr-containing peptide and RNA and can serve as both microreactors and substrates for tyrosinase. Importantly, partitioning of Tyr into the condensates and subsequent oxidation-polymerization gives rise to unique optical properties including far-red fluorescence. We now demonstrate that individual condensates can serve as sensors to detect tyrosinase activity, with a limit of detection similar to that of synthetic fluorescent probes. This approach opens opportunities to utilize designer biomolecular condensates as diagnostic tools for various disorders involving abnormal enzymatic activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2310569120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - 31 Oct 2023

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Copyright © 2023 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).


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