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The Cell Membrane (/a-level/biology/cells-and-organelles/revise-it/the-cell-membrane)
Tissues (/a-level/biology/cells-and-organelles/revise-it/tissues)
It is important that the cell is supplied with all the substances it needs (e.g. oxygen) and that
waste substances (e.g. carbon dioxide), or substances for export, leave the cell. There are
various processes by which this can happen...
Diusion
This is the process that is used in oxygen entering a cell, and carbon dioxide leaving.
These molecules will move from where they are at a high concentration to where they are at a
lower concentration. i.e. they diuse down a concentration gradient.
The blood system in humans continually brings more oxygen to the cell and takes carbon
dioxide away. This maintains a high concentration gradient.
Since the movement is always down the concentration gradient, it requires no energy. The

Since the movement is always down the concentration gradient, it requires no energy. The
small molecules pass from one side of the membrane to the other by moving between the lipid
molecules.

Fick's Law
Fick's law is used to measure the rate of diusion. It states that:

(The symbol means 'proportional to')


The larger the area and dierence in concentration and the thinner the surface, the
quicker the rate.
So, for example, in the lung the surface area is made very large by the presence of many
alveoli. The dierence in concentration is maintained by breathing, which brings in air with a
high oxygen concentration and removes the air with a high carbon dioxide concentration and
by a good blood supply. The capillaries surrounding the alveoli take away the oxygenated
blood and replace it with blood with a high carbon dioxide concentration. The walls of the
alveoli are only one cell thick, so the surface across which diusion occurs is thin and the rate
is high.
In plants, a good example would be root hair cells. They have a very large surface area due to
the drawing out of the cytoplasm to produce a very ne root hair. Water continues to enter the
root by osmosis because there is a high concentration of mineral salts in the cells and the
water is moved up the plant by the xylem. Water only has to penetrate one cell in order to
enter the plant and so again the rate of diusion is high.
Osmosis
This is a special case of diusion in which we are concerned only with the movement of water.

If two solutions are separated by a semi-permeable membrane, which only allows certain
sized molecules through (as in a plasma membrane), there will be a net (overall) movement of
the water molecules, from the less concentrated solution (the one with more water molecules),
to the solution which is more concentrated (has more solute molecules). This is because as in
ordinary diusion the molecules move to even-out any dierence in concentration.
However, because of the semi-permeable membrane, which does not allow the larger solute
molecules to cross, only the water molecules can move. The water molecules will continue to
cross the semi-permeable membrane until an equilibrium is reached, where the two solutions
are of equal concentration.
Water potential
This is a measure of the tendency of water molecules to move from one place to another. The
symbol used for water potential is the Greek letter psi,
Water always moves from a region of higher water potential to one of lower water potential, or
down the concentration gradient. So we can dene osmosis as the movement of water
molecules from a region of higher water potential to a region of lower water potential
through a semi-permeable membrane.
Solute potential and pressure potential
The water potential of a cell is dependent upon the combination of its solute and pressure
potentials. The water potential of pure water is zero and since adding solutes lowers water
potential, they make the water potential less than zero, i.e. negative. The more solute, the
more negative the water potential becomes. The amount that the solute molecules lower the
water potential is called the solute potential. It always has a negative value and is given the
symbol, s
Pressure also has a role to play in determining water potential. The greater the pressure inside
a cell, the greater the tendency will be for water to leave it. This contribution to water potential
is called the pressure potential. It always has a positive value because it increase water
potential and is given the symbol

potential and is given the symbol p


Osmosis in animal and plant cells
If the water potential surrounding an animal cell is higher than that of the cell, it will gain
water, swell and burst. If the surrounding solution's water potential is lower than that of the
cell, it will lose water and shrivel up. This is why it is so important to maintain a constant water
potential inside the bodies of animals.
In animal cells:
Water potential = Solute potential
Or:
= s

Pressure potential is important in plant cells because they are surrounded by a cell wall which,
is strong and rigid. When water enters a plant cell, its volume increases and the living part of
the cell presses on the cell wall. The cell wall gives very little and so pressure starts to build up
inside the cell. This has the tendency to stop more water entering the cell and also stops the
cell from bursting. When a plant cell is fully inated with water, it is called turgid.
So in plant cells the equation used to calculate the water potential of a cell is therefore:
Water potential = Solute potential + Pressure potential
Or:
= s + p
If a plant cell is placed in a solution with a lower water potential, it will loose water. The living
part of the cell or protoplast will shrink and pull away from the cell wall. At this point the
pressure potential is zero and so the water potential of the cell is equal to its solute potential.

pressure potential is zero and so the water potential of the cell is equal to its solute potential.
This process is called plasmolysis and the cell is said to be plasmolysed. The point at which the
protoplast is just about to pull away from the cell wall is called incipient plasmolysis.

Facilitated diusion
If charged particles or large molecules are to move across the membrane, another process
needs to be found, as they are less soluble (or even insoluble) in lipid. They move through
protein-lined pores.
Channel proteins
These line a water-lled pore in the membrane so water-soluble molecules can easily pass
through.
Dierent channels allow dierent substances to pass through (the channels are selective).
Some channels are gated (they will only open when appropriately stimulated).

Carrier proteins
In this case, the substance actually combines with a protein and is carried from one side of the
membrane to the other. (The exact details of this process remain unclear.) These proteins are
specic for a particular substance.

specic for a particular substance.


In both these cases, substances are moving down the concentration gradient so no energy is
required.

Active transport
Sometimes substances need to be moved from where they are at a lower concentration to
where they are at a higher concentration - against the concentration gradient. This allows cells
to take up essential molecules even when they are at a low concentration outside.
Because molecules are moved against the concentration gradient, it requires energy.
It is thought that active transport uses carrier proteins similar to those involved in facilitated
diusion.

Endocytosis and exocytosis


If very large molecules or groups of molecules need to enter or exit a cell, they do so using
vesicles.
The material to be transported out of the cell is surrounded by membrane. The vesicle will fuse

The material to be transported out of the cell is surrounded by membrane. The vesicle will fuse
with the cell surface membrane and the contents leave. This is called exocytosis (see Golgi
apparatus earlier).

Materials entering the cell can do so when the plasma membrane invaginates to surround the
material. The membrane seals o to form a vesicle, which can then move into the cell. This is
endocytosis.

If the material is uid, minute vesicles are formed. This type of endocytosis is called
pinocytosis.
If the material is relatively large, and is digested by enzymes after fusion of the vesicle with a
lysosome, it is called phagocytosis. This occurs in white blood cells that ingest bacteria and
other foreign bodies.

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The Cell Membrane (/a-level/biology/cells-and-organelles/revise-it/the-cell-membrane)


Tissues (/a-level/biology/cells-and-organelles/revise-it/tissues)

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