Researchers have scanned a nanometric cell membrane, and this (in addition to fascinating details) can make a decisive contribution to knowing some cellular functions that until now have remained enigmatic.
The research was conducted by a team of scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, using a series of genetic and chemical techniques, adding a hydrogen isotope to the membranes of Bacillus subtilis (a bacterial species), writes Science Alert.
Live cell membranes consist of thin lipid layers that support a variety of organic materials such as carbohydrate chains. Lipids form a barrier between the external environment and the internal environment. Proteins have the role of “gates” that control what goes in and out of the cell, and other chemicals, such as carbohydrates, have an identifying role.
Although it seems simple, there is a debate about the existence of lipid rafts. There are membrane sections that operate as distinct domains. It has been hypothesized that the movements of these lipid rafts can act as a control mechanism by removing or putting the proteins into action.
The researcher who led the study, John Katsaras, states that “some believe they exist, while others do not. There is evidence to support both sides.”
To find out the answer to this problem, the research team got the clearest picture of the membrane using a technique called neutron scattering, observing subtle differences in arranging molecules without destroying the cell or its functions.
Regarding the hypothesis of the existence of lipid rafts, they assert the existence of this domain in the membrane, observing heterogeneity in the arrangement of lipids.