Cell membranes -- the sacs encompassing the bodys living matter -- can assume a variety of shapes as they morph to engulf materials, expel others and assemble themselves into tissues.
A giant unilamellar vesicle (GUV) designed to mimic so-called rafts of lipid segregation in cell plasma membranes, when examined under multiphoton fluorescence microscopy, reveals boundaries (in blue) between optically resolvable domains (red). The GUV, made of sphingomyelin, cholesterol and another phospholipid, is approximately 30 micrometers in diameter. Copyright © Nature. Photomicrograph by DRBIO/Cornell.
In the past it was possible for theoreticians only to analyze the thermodynamic forces behind membrane shape-shifting. But now a team of biophysicists from Cornell University, the National Institutes of Health and the W.M. Keck Foundation has been able to watch the sacs, or vesicles, reshaping themselves under the light of multiphoton three-dimensional microscopy. The forces behind the membrane morphing, the researchers say, is akin to a party entertainer shaping balloon animals by tensioning the surfaces.
Their report on observing the membranes -- a laboratory-grown mixture of phospholipids and cholesterol -- being reshaped into two separate, two-dimensional liquid phases, or "rafts,"
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