Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Bouncy' cell membranes behave like cornstarch and water, researchers find

Date:
November 3, 2010
Source:
University of Oregon
Summary:
Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Swirl your fingers in it slowly and the mixture is a smoothly flowing liquid. Punch it quickly with your fist and you meet a rubbery solid -- so solid you can jump up and down on a vat of it. It turns out that cell membranes behave the same way.

Raghu Parthasarathy, professor of physics.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Oregon

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Swirl your fingers in it slowly and the mixture is a smoothly flowing liquid. Punch it quickly with your fist and you meet a rubbery solid -- so solid you can jump up and down on a vat of it.

It turns out that cell membranes -- or, more precisely the two-molecule-thick lipid sheets that form the structural basis of all cellular membranes -- behave the same way, say University of Oregon scientists.

For decades, researchers have been aware that biological membranes are fluid, and that this fluidity is crucial to allowing the motions and interactions of proteins and other cell surface molecules. The new studies, however, reveal that this state is not the simple Newtonian fluidity of familiar liquids like water, but rather it is viscoelastic. At rest the mixture is very fluid, but when quickly perturbed, it bounces back like rubber.

The discovery -- detailed Oct. 25 in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- strikes down the notion that these biologically important membranes are Newtonian fluids that flow regardless of the stress they encounter.

"This changes our whole understanding of what lipid membranes are," said Raghuveer Parthasarathy, a professor of physics and member of the UO's Materials Science Institute and Institute of Molecular Biology. "We may need to rethink our understanding of how all sorts of the mechanical processes that occur in cell membranes work, like how proteins are pulled from one place to another, how cells respond to stretching and other forces, and how membrane-embedded proteins that serve as channels for chemical signals are able to open and close.

"A lot of these mechanical tasks go awry in various diseases for reasons that remain mysterious," he said. "Perhaps a deeper understanding of the mechanical environment that membranes provide will illuminate why biology functions, or fails to function, in the way it does."

In the project, freestanding membranes of lipids -- fatty molecules that form the basis of all cell membranes -- were built with lipid-anchored nanoparticles as tracers that could be observed under high-powered microscopes. Close analysis of the trajectories of these particles allowed researchers to deduce the fluid and elastic properties of the membranes under changing conditions.

Leading the experiments were Christopher W. Harland, who earned a doctorate in physics from the UO last summer and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, and Miranda J. Bradley, then a visiting undergraduate student from Portland Community College and now at Portland State University. Bradley studied in Parthasarathy's lab as part of the UO's Undergraduate Catalytic Outreach & Research Experiences (UCORE) program.

The importance of membrane fluidity has been recognized for decades, but membranes' strange character as a viscoelastic material has gone unnoticed, said Parthasarathy, who is among UO scientists involved in the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI). "In retrospect, we shouldn't be surprised. Nature uses viscoelasticity in lots of its other liquids, from mucus to tears. Now we've found that it harnesses viscoelasticity in lipid membranes as well."

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Office of Naval Research through ONAMI and National Science Foundation supported the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oregon. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. W. Harland, M. J. Bradley, R. Parthasarathy. Phospholipid bilayers are viscoelastic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1010700107

Cite This Page:

University of Oregon. "'Bouncy' cell membranes behave like cornstarch and water, researchers find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171457.htm>.
University of Oregon. (2010, November 3). 'Bouncy' cell membranes behave like cornstarch and water, researchers find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171457.htm
University of Oregon. "'Bouncy' cell membranes behave like cornstarch and water, researchers find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171457.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Government Approves East Coast Oil Exploration

Government Approves East Coast Oil Exploration

AP (July 18, 2014) The Obama administration approved the use of sonic cannons to discover deposits under the ocean floor by shooting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine through waters shared by endangered whales and turtles. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sunken German U-Boat Clearly Visible For First Time

Sunken German U-Boat Clearly Visible For First Time

Newsy (July 18, 2014) The wreckage of the German submarine U-166 has become clearly visible for the first time since it was discovered in 2001. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: U.S. Must Have "smartest Airports, Best Power Grid"

Obama: U.S. Must Have "smartest Airports, Best Power Grid"

Reuters - US Online Video (July 17, 2014) President Barak Obama stopped by at a lunch counter in Delaware before making remarks about boosting the nation's infrastructure. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Crude Oil Prices Bounce Back After Falling Below $100 a Barrel

Crude Oil Prices Bounce Back After Falling Below $100 a Barrel

TheStreet (July 16, 2014) Oil Futures are bouncing back after tumbling below $100 a barrel for the first time since May yesterday. Jeff Grossman is the president of BRG Brokerage and trades at the NYMEX. Grossman tells TheStreet the Middle East is always a concern for oil traders. Oil prices were pushed down in recent weeks on Libya increasing its production. Supply disruptions in Iraq fading also contributed to prices falling. News from China's economic front showing a growth for the second quarter also calmed fears on its slowdown. Jeff Grossman talks to TheStreet's Susannah Lee on this and more on the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) report. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins