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The cell membrane can be regarded as the boundary between life and non-life. The ability of the membrane to adapt to changes in the environment is essential for all forms of life. Up until now, the accepted view was that cells can respond to changes in temperature by sensing the fluidity of their cell membranes. However, a research project has now shown that the underlying hypothesis, which was a widely accepted doctrine, is not correct.
The boundary between life and non-life is a remarkably narrow one. A central hallmark of life is the cellular membrane—a protective barrier of only a few nanometers thickness (one nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre) that is composed of proteins and two fluid layers of water-insoluble lipids. The function and integrity of this lipid bilayer is essential for the survival of the cell. If the cell membrane (or plasma membrane as it is also known) is compromised, the cell will die.
Barrier - Robert - Ernst - Professor - Molecular
"But this boundary is more than just a semi-permeable, passive barrier," explains Robert Ernst, Professor of Molecular Biology at Saarland University, whose research focuses on improving our understanding of these ultra-thin, flexible barriers around our cells. "Cell membranes are astonishing materials with bizarre properties that are difficult to imagine. They are extremely soft, yet they can cope with pressures that are hundreds of times greater than atmospheric pressure. At the same time, they have liquid-like properties and the ability to self-repair. This unique material protects the our cells from physical and chemical stress, facilitates communication between cells, mediates uptake of nutrients, and it wards off invading pathogens," says Ernst.
For a system that has to perform such a variety of functions, it is critical to have fine-tuned properties to warrant full functionality. "The cell membrane is a self-regulated system that is able to optimize its composition...
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