You are on page 1of 2

The role of movement of substances across membranes in the function of organs and organ systems.

20 June 2012 08:59

Membranes are made up of phospholipids; triglycerides with a charged, hydrophilic phosphate head substituted for a fatty acid molecule. They are arranged in a phospholipid bilayer as the phosphate groups associate with water whereas the fatty acids are hydrophobic and thus associate with themselves, forming a dual layer structure. The plasma membrane can be described as a "fluid mosaic" as the phospholipids can move relative to one another and the membrane itself is riddled with different intrinsic and extrinsic proteins. These have different jobs such as channels for polar molecules to move across the membrane or as glycoprotein receptors. The proteins intrinsic to the membrane are really important as they allow polar or large molecules to diffuse across the cell where they normally wouldn't be able to as they are not lipid soluble. One example is the nervous system. The membrane of an axon has lots of potassium channels which allow free movement but very few sodium channels so is relatively impermeable to sodium. The resting potential is maintained by the sodium potassium pump actively transporting sodium ions out 3 at a time and pumping potassium ions in 2 at a time which builds a potential difference across the membrane. When a stimulus is detected, the closed sodium channels change shape, allowing sodium ions to diffuse into the axon, depolarising it and creating an action potential. The movement of these ions allows organisms to be able to receive information from and respond to changing environments and so increase survival. Movement across membranes is also a key part of another section of the nervous system, synapses. Calcium ions diffuse in when an action potential reaches the synaptic terminal where they cause vesicles; sacs of plasma membrane containing neurotransmitter, to fuse to the pre synaptic membrane and release the neurotransmitter through exocytosis. Synapses are the points where two neurones meet and so this movement allows the linking of neurones to each other. The nervous system is ubiquitous in the body and helps the brain control everything we do, such as our breathing. The respiratory surface is another place where movement of substances across membranes is useful. When we breathe in, we inhale oxygen in the air which travels down the broncheoles to the alveolar sacs at the end. These are specialised to reduce the diffusion distance as much as possible and are very well supplied with blood; wrapped in tiny vessels called capillaries where red blood cells are squeezed up against the unicellularly thick walls. Oxygen diffuses across these membranes and into the red blood cells as carbon dioxide diffuses back into the lungs for exhalation. This process provides oxygen for all living cells which is necessary for respiration. Respiration is how all cells produce energy as ATP. It too involves movement of substances across membranes. It happens in all organisms and requires glucose as it breaks this molecule down into the more convenient energy currency ATP In plants, glucose is generated from Photosynthesis. This requires water from the roots. In the root hair cells, ions are actively transported across the cell membranes from the soil which builds a water potential gradient so water flows

from the soil and into the cytoplasm. From here, it flows through plasmodesmata through the cortex or through the cell walls in the apoplastic route until it reaches the casparian strip where it is forced into the membrane of the endothelium. It is important that water crosses membranes at this point because it gives plants more control over what goes into them as membranes are selectively permeable as we saw earlier. From here, ions are transported into the xylem and water follows through another water potential gradient. The xylem supplies all plant cells with water which can move into the membranes and also into the vacuole, keeping the plant turgid and pointing towards the light source so it captures the maximum amount of light, also required for photosynthesis. Animals get their glucose through digestion. Starch and fats are broken down by enzymes into smaller molecules that can be transferred across the membranes of the epithelial cells of the intestine as starch is too big for simple, facilitated or active transport across. These enzymes break it down into glucose which can be co-transported into the blood using the potential gradient of sodium ions through co transport carriers which are actively pumped out of the epithelial cells. Glucose in the cytoplasm is made into pyruvate during glycolysis which then is moved across the membrane of mitochondria into the matrix where the link reaction and Krebs cycle occur. The products of these then go to the electron transport chain in the double membrane of the mitochondria, the cristae. Here electrons move across the membrane, passed along proteins within and at each stage, use the potential energy lost to actively transport hydrogen ions into the intermembrane space where they build a concentration gradient. These can then diffuse through special intrinsic proteins in the membrane with ATP synthase at the end which uses their potential energy to bind together ADP and inorganic phosphate to create more ATP for the cell which it needs to perform functions such as protein synthesis. Movement of substances across membranes is a so observed in other systems such as the immune system. Non specific defence cells, lymphocytes such as the macrophages only detect self and non self cells. When a non self cell is detected by arrangement of antigens, often it is engulfed through endocytosis or phagocytosis. Here, lysosomes containing lytic enzymes can fuse to the phagosome and release these enzymes which break down the integrity of the cell wall of the pathogen or its membrane . This allows water to move in and cause bursting and therefore death through osmotic lysis.