Biophysicists have shown that a phenomenon known as diffusiophoresis, which can lead to a directed particle transport, can occur in biological systems.
In order to perform their biological functions, cells must ensure that their logistical schedules are implemented smoothly, such that the necessary molecular cargoes are delivered to their intended destinations on time. Most of the known transport mechanisms in cells are based on specific interactions between the cargo to be transported and the energy-consuming motor proteins that convey the load to its destination. A group of researchers led by Petra Schwille of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry and LMU physicist Erwin Frey, Chair of Statistical and Biological Physics, has now shown for the first time that a form of directed transport of particles can take place in cells, even in the absence of molecular motors. Furthermore, this mechanism can sort the transported particles according to their size, as the team reports in the latest issue of Nature Physics.