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The past decade has seen a revolution in our understanding of how the cellular environment is organized, where an incredible body of work has provided new insights into the role played by membraneless organelles. These rapid advancements have been made possible by an increasing awareness of the peculiar physical properties that give rise to such bodies and the complex biology that enables their function. Viral infections are not extraneous to this. Indeed, in host cells, viruses can harness existing membraneless compartments or, even, induce the formation of new ones. By hijacking the cellular machinery, these intracellular bodies can assist in the replication, assembly, and packaging of the viral genome as well as in the escape of the cellular immune response. Here, we provide a perspective on the fundamental polymer physics concepts that may help connect and interpret the different observed phenomena, ranging from the condensation of viral genomes to the phase separation of multicomponent solutions. We complement the discussion of the physical basis with a description of biophysical methods that can provide quantitative insights for testing and developing theoretical and computational models.

Original languageEnglish
Article number167988
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 15 2023


  • biomolecular condensates
  • condensation
  • phase separation
  • virus


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