Protein coacervates serve as hubs to concentrate and sequester proteins and nucleotides and thus function as membraneless organelles to manipulate cell physiology. We have engineered a coacervating protein to create tunable, synthetic membraneless organelles that assemble in response to a single pulse of light. Coacervation is driven by the intrinsically disordered RGG domain from the protein LAF-1, and opto-responsiveness is coded by the protein PhoCl, which cleaves in response to 405 nm light. We developed a fusion protein containing a solubilizing maltose-binding protein domain, PhoCl, and two copies of the RGG domain. Several seconds of illumination at 405 nm is sufficient to cleave PhoCl, removing the solubilization domain and enabling RGG-driven coacervation within minutes in cellular-sized water-in-oil emulsions. An optimized version of this system displayed light-induced coacervation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The methods described here provide novel strategies for inducing protein phase separation using light.
Keywords: PhoCl; RGG; biomolecular condensates; membraneless organelles; optogenetics; recombinant proteins.