Ben Franklin Stilled the Waves: An Informal History of Pouring Oil on Water with Reflections on the Ups and Downs of Scientific Life in General

By Charles Tanford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINETEEN
Epilogue–—The Biological Frontier

WE are now all ardent converts. The membrane is accepted, even honored–—given top priority for current research. Anatomists, anesthesiologists, biochemists, cell biologists, immunologists, neuroscientists, opthalmologists, pharmacologists, physiologists–—we have all sorts of titles and degrees, but we all now love cell membranes and want to know how they work. We all agree that the phospholipid bilayer, exactly two molecules thick, is everywhere the basic framework of membrane structure, and we understand the forces that tenaciously hold the lipid molecules together. The words “hydrophobic” and “hydrophilic” are ever present, in practically every paper at the molecular level in any of the fields I have here enumerated.

We also now accept that a cell membrane must be more than just a phospholipid bilayer. A lipid bilayer can surround a cell, define it, and segregate its contents from the environment. But, as Overton already told us nearly one hundred years ago, more is needed before we can call a cell “alive.” The membrane must be a mosaic, containing functional patches provided by protein molecules. The proteins don’t line the outside of the membrane, of course, as in the discarded Danielli-Davson model, but they are embedded in the bilayer, often traversing all the way through the membrane, from one side to the other, inseparable from the bilayer unless the whole membrane is disrupted.

The presence of these proteins does not change the basic chemical principles of the assembly of membranes. Protein mol-

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