Annual Meeting

Tension between structured complexes and disordered assemblies

A 2022 annual meeting session on protein machines and disorder
Martin Beck Tanja Mittag
By Martin Beck and Tanja Mittag
Sept. 24, 2021

How are the many metabolic pathways and biochemical functions of cells spatially organized? In his early ideas of the organization of cells, Edmund Wilson stated that cells were packed with liquid (and by definition disordered) coacervates. Think oil droplets in vinegar. Then, membrane-bound organelles and structured complexes were discovered and took over the narrative thanks to the flourishing discipline of structural biology.

Recently, coacervates have found their way back into the narrative and now are known as membraneless organelles or biomolecular condensates. They compartmentalize cells extensively without membranes, and phase separation shapes many fundamental biological processes. Consequently, dysregulation of phase separation can result in disease. But the pendulum has swung back too far, and protein disorder now often is described as a necessary key ingredient for phase separation. 

The highly structured complexes in and internal structure of biomolecular condensates are not getting the attention they deserve. In our theme, we will highlight the spectrum between ordered molecular machines with precise stoichiometry and nonstoichiometric condensates, the latter of which can be disordered completely or have a more defined network structure. Both are necessary and shape functions in our cells.

Keywords: molecular mechanisms, structural biology, biophysics, soft matter physics 

Who should attend: everyone who likes molecular mechanisms and is not afraid of a bit of disorder

Theme song: Anything by Rage Against the Machine — or the Droplettes (just kidding)

This session is powered by vinaigrette and other immiscible fluids.



  • In situ structural analysis of the nuclear pore complex — Martin Beck, Max Planck Institute of Biophysics
  • Molecular-scale structure of a high-curvature membrane — Adam Frost, University of California, San Francisco
  • Structure and function of DNA transposition assemblies — Orsolya Barabas, University of Geneva
  • Structural adventures in bacterial protein secretion and motility — Susan Lea, National Institutes of Health
  • Building the microtubule cytoskeleton via phase transitions — Sabine Petry, Princeton University
  • Structured and disordered proteins collaborate to drive membrane remodeling — Jeanne Stachowiak, University of Texas at Austin
  • Understanding how oncogenic fusion proteins drive aberrant gene expression through phase separation — Richard Kriwacki, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Decoding plasticity of the dark proteome — Edward Lemke, Johannes Gutenberg University and Institute of Molecular Biology
  • Phase behavior of intrinsically disordered prionlike domains — Tanja Mittag, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Regulation of translation and deadenylation via biomolecular condensates — Julie Forman–Kay, Hospital for Sick Children
  • Polyubiquitin effects on phase transitions of shuttle protein UBQLN2 — Carlos Castañeda, Syracuse University
  • The role of phase transitions in transcription — Ibrahim Cissé, California Institute of Technology

Learn more

Check out all ten thematic symposia planned for the 2022 ASBMB annual meeting:

Martin Beck
Martin Beck

Martin Beck is a director and scientific member at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics and studies the structure, function and assembly of very large macromolecular complexes in their native environment.

Tanja Mittag
Tanja Mittag

Tanja Mittag is an associate member in the structural biology department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital focusing on phase separation in biology and disease. 

Related articles

Sugar coating is, in fact, important
Valerie Weaver & Steve Withers
What’s new with DNA and RNA?
Karolin Luger & Chuan He
Enzymes show off new moves
Tadhg Begley & Catherine Drennan
Cells beat stress — so can you!
Jeffrey I. Brodsky & Elizabeth Vierling

Featured jobs

from the ASBMB career center

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Science

Science highlights or most popular articles

Finding a third form of fat
Journal News

Finding a third form of fat

Oct. 26, 2021

When brown fat was discovered in human adults, it came as a surprise. A classic JBC study found another surprise: White fat cells could be coaxed into a phenotype resembling brown fat.

My cat’s coat is mostly white with dark tabby patches. What’s going on?
Science Communication

My cat’s coat is mostly white with dark tabby patches. What’s going on?

Oct. 24, 2021

A researcher uses a tweetorial to figure out the underlying genetics for their cat’s coat.

Dalit scientists face barriers in India’s top science institutes

Dalit scientists face barriers in India’s top science institutes

Oct. 23, 2021

Despite decades-old inclusion policies, Dalits are systematically underrepresented in science institutes in India. Why?

‘It goes both ways’

‘It goes both ways’

Oct. 21, 2021

This year’s theme of “location, location, location” refers to the scenic meeting spot and to a new way of looking at lipids.

From the journals: JLR
Journal News

From the journals: JLR

Oct. 19, 2021

Predicting drug-induced lysosomal fat buildup. Minimizing side effects of atherosclerosis treatment. Finding a key to sepsis diagnosis and treatment. Read about papers on these topics recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

A new way of looking at concussions

A new way of looking at concussions

Oct. 17, 2021

Emerging research suggests that even mild hits to the head may damage the tiny lymphatic vessels that clear toxic chemicals and cellular debris from the brain.