Liquid–liquid phase separation (LLPS) in macromolecular solutions (e.g., coacervation) is relevant both to technology and to the process of mesoscale structure formation in cells. The LLPS process is characterized by a phase diagram, i.e., binodal lines in the temperature/concentration plane, which must be quantified to predict the system’s behavior. Experimentally, this can be difficult due to complications in handling the dense macromolecular phase. Here, we develop a method for accurately quantifying the phase diagram without direct handling: We confine the sample within micron-scale, water-in-oil emulsion droplets and then use precision fluorescent imaging to measure the volume fraction of the condensate within the droplet. We find that this volume fraction grows linearly with macromolecule concentration; thus, by applying the lever rule, we can directly extract the dense and dilute binodal concentrations. We use this approach to study a model LLPS system of self-assembled, fixed-valence DNA particles termed nanostars (NSs). We find that temperature/concentration phase diagrams of NSs display, with certain exceptions, a larger co-existence regime upon increasing salt or valence, in line with expectations. Aspects of the measured phase behavior validate recent predictions that account for the role of valence in modulating the connectivity of the condensed phase. Generally, our results on NS phase diagrams give fundamental insight into limited-valence phase separation, while the method we have developed will likely be useful in the study of other LLPS systems.
Emulsion imaging of a DNA nanostar condensate phase diagram reveals valence and electrostatic effects
Nathaniel Conrad, Grace Chang, Deborah K. Fygenson, Omar A. Saleh; Emulsion imaging of a DNA nanostar condensate phase diagram reveals valence and electrostatic effects. J. Chem. Phys. 21 December 2022; 157 (23): 234203. https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0130808
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