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Cell membranes

Cell membranes

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There are several types of membranes in the cell. The essay describes the different functions of these membranes.
There are several types of membranes in the cell. The essay describes the different functions of these membranes.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The structure and function of cell membranes
The membranes of the cell have a variety of important functions made possible by their special structure. In this text the structure of the cell will be covered briefly before discussing eight important functions of cellmembranes:They provide the cell with integrity.They create osmosisThey divide the cell into separate compartments.They are the site of translation and formation of many proteins.Take part in transportThey create proton gradientsThey carry electrical signalsThey carry receptors sensing the extra cellular environmentAll these functions are very complex. One could have written a book onthe topic. In this text, due to space constraints, the functions can only bedescribed briefly. Much simplification will therefore be necessary.
The fundamental strocture of the cell membranes is the lipid bilayer. Thelipides are molecules with a hydrophilic end and a hydrphobic end. Thehydrophobic end has much in common with a fat. It has a glycerol withtwo fatty acids atached to it instead of three as in fats. The third site of theglycerol is atached to a phosphate group which makes out the hydrophilic part of the molecule. The hydrophilic and hydrophobic ends makes thelipids form spesial structures in water. In contact with water the lipidsstiks their hydrophobic parts together to avoid the polar water while thehydrophilic ends turn out and face the water. Because of this the lipidesforms double layered, continous sheets in water(see figure1).There are many types of lipids. The ones with phosphate attached to themare called phospholipids and are the most normal ones. The phosphate, or other hydrophilic end group has usually other groups attached to themlike saccarides, amino acids, or other organic groups. The hydrophobicfatty acid chains can differ in length, and they can have from none to amany double bonds in their hydrocarbon chain making them saturated,monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated.
The lipid bilayer forms the backbone or glue of the cell membranes. Butthe membranes are also full of proteins. The proteins have important
functions in the membranes. For a start they can be classified into threegroups after how they are connected to the lipid layer.The first group is called the integral proteins. They penetrate the bilayer and sticks out on both side of it one side inside the cell cytoplasm and theother outside the cell. For this to be done the protein has to have anonpolar hydrophobic part where it spans the hydrophobic inside of thelipid bilayer and polar hydrophilic parts where it faces the out sides. Thisis made possible by the amino acid chains that the protein is made of. Of the 20 amino acids that all proteins are built of some are polar and someare not polar. The parts of the protein that runs trough the lipids are madeup of nonpolar amino acids. The integral proteins has important functionsin transporting different molecules into or out of the cell. The lipid bilayer is impenetrable to polar molecules like water and ions. One typeof the integral proteins forms channels where water and ions can runtrough. Others functions like pumps that binds to a special molecule andthen changes form living the attached molecule on the other side of themembrane. There are two types of pumps one of them requires no addedenergy because the reaction brings the protein and the pumped moleculefrom a state of higher potential energy to a state of lower potentialenergy. The pump therefore fuels itself. The other type of pump bringsthe protein and the transported molecule from a state of lower to a state of higher potential energy and therefore requires added energy in the formof the energy-carrying molecule ATP. These two kinds of pumping inand out of the cell are called passive and active transport, referring totheir energy requirement.The second type of membrane proteins are called peripheral proteins.They are attached to the outer or inner side of the membrane bynoncovalent electrostatic bonds. The ones connected to the cytoplasmicside of the membrane can form a fibrillar network that offers mechanicalsupport to the cell, like a skeleton. They can also work as enzymes, or asanchor points for integral proteins, or can carry signals along themembrane. Peripheral proteins on the outer side of the membrane areoften parts of the extra cellular matrix which is for the structure of tissuesand the shape of organs.A third type of proteins is anchored in the inner or outer part of the lipid bilayer.There are also carbohydrates attached to the proteins and lipids havingdifferent functions in the membrane.
Functions of the cell membranes
Cell integrityBy being just partly penetrable the plasma membranes protect the cellsintegrity towards its surroundings allowing it to have another concentration of solutes than its surroundings. It can regulate itsconcentration of special solutes like ions and peptides by the channelsand pumps many of them being highly specialised to recognise and lettrough only a particular compound.OsmosisFrom discussing cell integrity it is a natural step to go over to osmosis, animportant phenomena of the plasma membrane. Although the lipid bilayer has a water repelling inside it is still penetrable to water. In thesituation where a membrane will let water but not solutes through, water will move from a region with lower concentration of solute to an area of stronger concentration of solutes. This is the definition of osmosis.Because of osmosis a cell set in an environment of much less soluteconcentration than what is inside the cell is said to be hypertonic to itssurrounding solution. This makes water rush into the cell causing it toswell and get a high inner pressure. The opposite happens when there is ahigher concentration of solutes outside the cell. The water diffuses out of the cell making it shrink or collapse. The cell is then said to be hypotonic.Cells usually recover from these conditions quickly by regulating their ion content to mach their surroundings. This is done by the ion pumps. Acell with a solute concentration level to the one in its surroundings is saidto be isotonic.Osmosis has important functions in biological processes in both plantsand animals. In animals, the cells that line the intestine reabsorb fluids inthe digestive tract. In plants cells keeps hypertonic to keep the stiffnessthat keeps the plants up. The membrane of the plant cell vacuole, thetonoplast, pumps ions actively (needs supply of energy) in to the vacuolegiving it a much higher concentration of solutes than the rest of the cell or its surroundings. This makes water rush into the vacuole and creates theso called turgor pressure. This internal pressure gives support to non-woody plants keeping them stiff and erect. This is why lack of water makes green plants soften and bend.CompartmentationMembranes also divides every single cell into many differentcompartments that in this way can carry out work that require its ownenvironment. Mitochondria and plastids both have their one membranessurrounding them. That is also the case for other organelles like the ER,the golgi, the lysosomes, and the plant vacuoles. In eucariotic cells also

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