Why are proteins the perfect molecule to build structures in the cell membrane?

Why are proteins the perfect molecule to build structures in the cell membrane? Amino acids come in a wide variety and are used in the construction of proteins.

why are proteins the perfect molecule to build structures in the cell membrane

Each amino acid has a unique set of characteristics (such as being hydrophobic, hydrophilic, acidic, basic… etc.)

Why are proteins the perfect molecule to build structures in the cell membrane?

This model of the plasma membrane is called the fluid mosaic model. The membrane contains components made of protein, lipids, and carbohydrates.


A thin layer of membrane forms a protective sheath around each cell in your body. This membrane has a consistency that is somewhat comparable to…start superscript, 1, stop superscript salad oil.

When I originally came across that tidbit of information, I didn’t find it to be particularly comforting at all! To create a barrier between a cell and the outside world with salad oil seems like it would be a very delicate endeavor.

Even though it has the consistency of salad oil, the plasma membrane really works rather effectively at the task it was designed for.

In what specific ways does it contribute? Not only does the plasma membrane demarcate the boundaries of the cell, but it also enables the cell to have a regulated interaction with the environment in which it finds itself.

It is necessary for cells to be able to exclude some compounds, take in other substances, and excrete other substances, all in the appropriate proportions.

In addition to this, they need to be able to interact with other cells, in which they can both identify themselves and exchange information with one another.
Lipids are essential to the plasma membrane because they provide a barrier that is only partially permeable between the cell and its surroundings.

This allows the plasma membrane to fulfill its functions. In addition to lipids and proteins, it requires carbohydrates (sugars and sugar chains), which serve to decorate both types of molecules (proteins and lipids) and assist in the process of cell recognition.

Proteins play a role in both the transport of molecules across membranes and the communication between cells.
In this section, we are going to take a more in-depth look at the many components of the plasma membrane by analyzing their functions, the variety of ways in which they may be found, and the way in which they collaborate to form a border that is sensitive, adaptable, and safe for the cell.

Fluid mosaic model

The fluid mosaic model, which has now come to be regarded as the most accurate representation of the structure of the plasma membrane, was first put up in the year 1972.

Although this model has developed throughout the course of time, it is still useful for providing a fundamental explanation of the structure and function of membranes in many different types of cells.
The fluid mosaic hypothesis postulates that the plasma membrane is composed of a mosaic of components, the primary ones of which are phospholipids, cholesterol, and proteins, that may freely and fluidly move in the plane of the membrane.

To put it another way, a diagram of the membrane, such as the one that can be seen below, is nothing more than a static representation of a dynamic process in which phospholipids and proteins are constantly moving past one another.
If you insert a very fine needle into a cell, the membrane will simply part to flow around the needle.

Once the needle is removed, the membrane will flow back together seamlessly. It is interesting to note that this fluidity means that the membrane will simply part to flow around the needle if you insert a very fine needle.


Image adapted from one first published on OpenStax Biology.

Lipids, such as phospholipids and cholesterol, proteins, and carbohydrate groups that are connected to some of the lipids and proteins make up the primary components of the plasma membrane. Other components of the plasma membrane include cholesterol.

  • Glycerol, two fatty acid tails, and a phosphate-linked head group are the components of a phospholipid, which is a kind of lipid. Phospholipid bilayers are the typical structure seen in biological membranes. These bilayers consist of two layers of phospholipids with the tails of the phospholipids facing inward.
  • In addition to phospholipids, the core of the membrane also contains cholesterol, which is also a kind of lipid but is made up of four carbon rings that are bonded together.
  • It is possible for membrane proteins to cross the plasma membrane totally, extend partially inside it, or have a loose attachment to either the inside or the outside face of the membrane.
  • Only the outermost layer of the plasma membrane contains carbohydrate groups, which are coupled to proteins to create glycoproteins or lipids to form glycolipids. Carbohydrate groups are only found on the plasma membrane’s surface.

There are many distinct kinds of cells, each of which has its own unique ratio of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates in its plasma membrane.

However, proteins make up around half of the mass of the composition of a normal human cell, whereas lipids (of any kind) make up approximately forty percent, and carbohydrates make up the remaining ten percent.


The fundamental component of the plasma membrane is a bilayer structure that is composed of phospholipids.

Because they are amphipathic, which means that they have both parts that are hydrophilic and regions that are hydrophobic, they are well suited for this function.

mage credit: OpenStax Biology.

The region of a phospholipid known as the head is known as the hydrophilic, or “water-loving,” component. The head includes a negatively charged phosphate group as well as an extra tiny group (of various identity, “R” in the figure at left), which may also be charged or polar.

Phospholipids in a membrane bilayer have hydrophilic heads that point outward, making contact with the aqueous (watery) fluid both within and outside the cell.

Due to the fact that water is a polar molecule, it quickly establishes electrostatic contacts (relationships based on charge) with the phospholipid heads.
Long, nonpolar fatty acid tails make up the hydrophobic, or “water-fearing,” portion of phospholipids. Hydrophobic literally translates to “water-hating.”

However, the fatty acid tails have a difficult time interacting with water and are much better at interacting with other nonpolar molecules.

Because of this, it is more energetically beneficial for the phospholipids to tuck their fatty acid tails away in the inside of the membrane, where they are hidden from the surrounding water.

This is because the interior of the membrane is more densely packed than the outside.

Because water and other polar or charged molecules have a difficult time penetrating the hydrophobic core of the membrane, the phospholipid bilayer that is generated as a result of these interactions serves as an effective barrier between the inside and outside of the cell.

Image credit: modification of work by OpenStax Biology, originally by Mariana Ruiz Villareal.

Phospholipids, by virtue of their amphipathic character, are not simply ideally suited for the formation of a bilayer of a membrane. Instead, this is the kind of thing that they will perform on their own own if the circumstances are appropriate!

Phospholipids have a propensity to organize themselves in water or aqueous solution with their hydrophobic tails facing each other and their hydrophilic heads facing outward.

This arrangement is known as the hydrophobic-hydrophilic orientation.

If the phospholipids have thin tails, they are more likely to form a micelle, which is a tiny sphere consisting of a single layer, but if they have thicker tails, they are more likely to form a liposome (a hollow droplet of bilayer membrane)


Plasma membranes include proteins, which are the second most important component. Integral and peripheral membrane proteins are the two primary classifications of membrane proteins.

Integral membrane proteins are, as their name indicates, integrated into the membrane; they feature at least one hydrophobic area that attaches them to the hydrophobic core of the phospholipid bilayer.

This is how they are able to function properly inside the membrane.

While some extend from one side of the membrane to the other and are visible on either side start superscript 1, end superscript, others only penetrate the membrane up to a certain point along their length. start superscript end superscript Proteins that span the whole of a membrane are referred to as transmembrane proteins.

Image credit: image modified from OpenStax Biology, originally by Foobar/Wikimedia Commons.

The parts of an integral membrane protein that are located on the inside of the membrane are hydrophobic, while the parts of the protein that are exposed to the cytoplasm or extracellular fluid are typically hydrophilic.

Some transmembrane proteins only go across the membrane once, whereas others might have as many as twelve distinct membrane-spanning regions in their structure.

Although the majority of transmembrane proteins conform to this concept, a membrane-spanning segment typically contains anywhere from 20 to 25 hydrophobic amino acids organized in an alpha helix.

As can be seen in the following diagram, some integral membrane proteins may combine to create a channel through which ions and other tiny molecules can travel.

_Image credit: “Components and structure: Figure 1,” by OpenStax College, Biology (CC BY 3.0)._

Both the exterior and interior surfaces of membranes include peripheral membrane proteins, which may be connected to either the integral proteins or the phospholipids of the membrane. Peripheral membrane proteins, in contrast to integral membrane proteins, do not insert themselves into the hydrophobic core of the membrane. Instead, these proteins tend to have a more lax attachment to the membrane.


Plasma membranes include three primary components, the third of which being carbohydrates. In general, they are located on the exterior surface of cells and are either coupled to proteins (forming glycoproteins) or to lipids.

Glycoproteins are one kind of glycoprotein (forming glycolipids). These carbohydrate chains may be straight or branched, and they can include anywhere from 2 to 60 monosaccharide units in their structure.
These carbohydrates, in conjunction with the membrane proteins, combine to generate unique cellular markers that are similar to a badge of identification at the molecular level and enable cells to identify one another.

These markers play a critical role in the immune system because they enable immune cells to distinguish between bodily cells, which they should not assault, and alien cells or tissues, which they should attack.

Membrane fluidity

The structure of the fatty acid tails of the phospholipids is a key factor in defining the characteristics of the membrane, particularly how fluid it is. The structure of these fatty acid tails is determined by the phospholipids.
Because saturated fatty acids do not contain any double bonds because they are saturated with hydrogens, their structure is generally linear. Unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, have one or more double bonds, which often results in a bend or kink in the fatty acid chain. (The graphic of the structure of phospholipids that may be seen earlier in this page provides an example of a phospholipid that has a bent unsaturated tail.) When the temperature lowers, the saturated and unsaturated fatty acid tails of phospholipids react in distinctively different ways:

  • When the temperature is lower, the straight tails of saturated fatty acids are more likely to pack closely together, producing a membrane that is dense and relatively stiff.
  • Because of the kinked form of the tails, phospholipids with unsaturated fatty acid tails do not pack together as firmly as those with saturated fatty acid tails. Because of this, a membrane that is made up of unsaturated phospholipids is more likely to maintain its fluid state at temperatures that are lower than that of a membrane that is made up of saturated phospholipids.

The majority of cell membranes are composed of a combination of phospholipids, some of which have two saturated tails (which are straight), and others of which have one saturated tail and one unsaturated tail (which are curved).

Physiologically, a wide variety of species, fish being one example, are able to adapt to cold conditions by altering the amount of unsaturated fatty acids that are contained inside their membranes.

Please refer to the lipids page for more reading on the subject of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
Phospholipids are not the only component of animal membranes that contribute to the maintenance of fluidity.

Animals also contain another membrane component. The presence of cholesterol, an additional form of lipid that is encased inside the phospholipids of the membrane, is thought to contribute to the attenuation of the impact that temperature has on fluidity.

Image credit: “Cholesterol,” by BorisTM (public domain).

When temperatures are low, cholesterol improves fluidity by preventing phospholipids from packing tightly together. However, when temperatures are high, cholesterol actually decreases fluidity start superscript, 3, comma, 4.

In this manner, cholesterol broadens the range of temperatures within which a membrane is able to retain a fluidity that is both functional and healthy.

F.A.Q Why are proteins the perfect molecule to build structures in the cell membrane

What roles do proteins play in the structure of the cell membrane?

They create openings in the membrane through which molecules may pass. These are very straightforward transport methods. Additionally, proteins serve as components of bigger transport systems such as pumps throughout the body.

Proteins also have the ability to be sticky, which enables the cell to better cling to a variety of surfaces.

Why are proteins used for constructing different kinds of structures?

These proteins give cells their shape and help them in their function. They also make it possible for the body to move on a bigger scale.

These proteins are responsible for binding and transporting atoms and tiny molecules both inside cells and throughout the rest of the body.

Which substances have the most significant role in the construction of the cell membrane?

Phospholipids, which are amphipathic molecules composed of two hydrophobic fatty acid chains connected to a phosphate-containing hydrophilic head group, are the essential building blocks of all cell membranes.

Phospholipids are also known as phospholipid bilayers (see Figure 2.7).

How exactly does protein contribute to the construction of cells?

Chains of amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of proteins. These chains may then fold into a variety of different three-dimensional structures.

The bonding that occurs between protein molecules helps to fix their structure, and the final folded forms of proteins are well-suited for the roles that they play in the body.


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