by Evan Ingersoll & Gael McGill

A cell is the basic unit of life. Yet, the inside environment of a cell is extremely crowded. A fundamental question in cell biology is how cells regulate cellular activities within such a crowded environment to fulfill proper functions. A traditional view is that cells compartmentalize biochemical activities and control energy flow through membrane-bound organelles, such as the nucleus, mitochondria, chloroplast and vesicles, etc. Increasing evidence suggests that cells can also form membrane-free structures (termed biomolecular condensates) often through liquid-liquid phase separation (a process similar to oil in water), which creates additional levels of cellular compartmentalization. 

The Huang lab focuses on the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of phase-separated assemblies in plant growth, development and defense responses. There are three main directions of research in the lab: 1) systems approach for a detailed understanding of phase separation control of gene expression; 2) molecular, cellular and biochemical characterization of defense signal flow through membrane-less condensates; 3) bioengineering and synthetic approaches of immune condensates to benefit agriculture and human health.