In a groundbreaking study, researchers discovered electrical activity in biological condensates, cellular structures. Traditionally, scientists believed that electrical imbalances, vital to biological processes, existed only in cell membranes. However, this study found that such imbalances could occur between air and water microdroplets, reveals that similar electric fields also exist in and around biological condensates.

The researchers discovered that these imbalances could trigger oxygen reactions, or “redox” reactions. The finding not only challenges existing understanding of biological chemistry, but could also provide insights into how early life on Earth harnessed the energy required for its existence. The human body relies heavily on electrical charges. Pulses of energy they travel through the brain and nerves, and most biological processes depend on electrical ions traveling across the membranes of each cell. These electrical signals are, in part, due to an imbalance in electrical charges that exists on either side of a cell membrane. Until recently, researchers believed that the membrane was a necessary component to create this imbalance. But that thought was overturned when researchers at Stanford discovered that similar unbalanced electrical charges can exist between microdroplets of water and air.

Biological condensates, like oil droplets in the water, harbor electrical imbalances that could provide the energy needed to start early life. Now, researchers have discovered that these types of electric fields also exist in and around another type of cellular structure called biological condensates. Like droplets of oil floating in water, these structures exist due to differences in density and form compartments within the cell without needing the physical boundary of a membrane. Previous research has shown that tiny water droplets interacting with air or solid surfaces create microscopic electrical imbalances.

Theresearchers wanted to see if these imbalances triggered reactive oxygen for “redox”.When electrical charges jump between one material and another, they can produce molecular fragments that can pair to form hydroxyl [OH] radicals. These can then pair again to form H2O2 in tiny but detectable amounts.

Cells create biological condensates to either separate or trap proteins and molecules, either inhibiting or promoting their activity.It was revealed that biomolecular condensates are redox and, among other things, endowed with a critical chemical function essential to cells.the simplest cells, something had to provide energy for the first of life’s functions to begin.

SOURCE: Duke University, Chem, MAY 2023