The cytoplasm of mammalian cells is a viscous fluid, with organelles and proteins jiggling against one another and drifting at random.
Yet a new biophysical study finds that those drifting objects are subject to a very different type of environment than what we have thought.
The cytoplasm is actually an elastic gel, it turns out, so it puts up some resistance to simple diffusion. But energetic processes elsewhere in the cell—in the cytoskeleton, especially—create random but powerful waves in the cytoplasm, pushing on proteins and organelles alike. Like flotsam and jetsam buffeted by the wakes of passing ships, suspended particles scatter much more quickly and widely than they would in a calm sea.