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.

Related Articles


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 December 21, 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 December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Building Google Into Cars

Building Google Into Cars

Reuters - Business Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Google's next Android version could become the standard that'll power your vehicle's entertainment and navigation features, Reuters has learned. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) What to buy an experienced photographer or video shooter? There is some strong gear on the market from Nikon and GoPro. The AP's Ron Harris takes a closer look. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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