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The Plasma Membrane: The Fluid Mosaic Model

! The plasma membrane is described as a fluid mosaic because of the “mosaic” of protein
molecules embedded in a lipid bilayer. The mosaic is fluid as most of the proteins and lipid
molecules drift in a lateral direction at the rate of about two microns/minute. Your
professor graphically refers to proteins floating in a sea of lard!
! Review: The membrane is stabilized by an extracellular matrix and by an intracellular

Selective permeability describes the plasma

membrane’s ability to allow certain molecules
to pass through more easily than others.
Some molecules are completely blocked. The
plasma membrane is structured so as to
promote selective permeability of substances:

Review: The illustration shows the lipid

bilayer. It consists of hydrophobic tails
sandwiched in between hydrophilic heads
that point toward the cellular cytoplasm or
toward the watery outer environment.

Hydrophobic or fat-soluble substances can

pass through the membrane. Hydrophilic
substances cannot easily pass through
because the hydrophobic core presents a

One of the roles of protein molecules, which

are sandwiched in the lipid bilayer, is to
transport hydrophilic substances across the
Copyright © 2000, Thinkwell Corp., All Rights Reserved. 031500bio075
The illustration in the white rectangle shows
the structure of a phospholipid. Notice that
each phospholipid has two tails. One tail is
comprised of saturated fat. The other tail
possesses double carbon bonds, which are
unsaturated and the resulting overall
appearance of the tail is kinked. The kinks
make the membrane fluid by keeping adjacent
phospholipids from packing together.

As a survival strategy, the cell’s membrane

composition may differ in different
environmental conditions. For example,
membranes that are rich in unsaturated bonds
will remain more fluid. Fluidity is crucial for
maintaining cell membrane permeability!

In spite of its bad reputation, cholesterol has a

crucial role in maintaining the cell membrane’s
fluidity at colder temperatures
Copyright © 2000, Thinkwell Corp., All Rights Reserved. 031500bio075