Phase-separated droplets swim to their dissolution

Etienne Jambon-Puillet, Andrea Testa, Charlotta Lorenz, Robert W. Style, Aleksander A. Rebane, Eric R. Dufresne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological macromolecules can condense into liquid domains. In cells, these condensates form membraneless organelles that can organize chemical reactions. However, little is known about the physical consequences of chemical activity in and around condensates. Working with model bovine serum albumin (BSA) condensates, we show that droplets swim along chemical gradients. Active BSA droplets loaded with urease swim toward each other. Passive BSA droplets show diverse responses to externally applied gradients of the enzyme’s substrate and products. In all these cases, droplets swim toward solvent conditions that favor their dissolution. We call this behavior “dialytaxis”, and expect it to be generic, as conditions which favor dissolution typically reduce interfacial tension, whose gradients are well-known to drive droplet motion through the Marangoni effect. These results could potentially suggest alternative physical mechanisms for active transport in living cells, and may enable the design of fluid micro-robots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3919
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy

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