The origin of cellular compartmentalization has long been viewed as paralleling the origin of life. Historically, membrane-bound organelles have been presented as the canonical examples of compartmentalization. However, recent interest in cellular compartments that lack encompassing membranes has forced biologists to reexamine the form and function of cellular organization. The intracellular environment is now known to be full of transient macromolecular structures that are essential to cellular function, especially in relation to RNA regulation. Here we discuss key findings regarding the physicochemical principles governing the formation and function of non-membrane-bound organelles. Particularly, we focus how the physiological function of non-membrane-bound organelles depends on their molecular structure. We also present a potential mechanism for the formation of non-membrane-bound organelles. We conclude with suggestions for future inquiry into the diversity of roles played by non-membrane bound organelles. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.