Harvard research challenges conventional thinking on cell membranes

Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 17:00 in Biology & Nature

Adam Cohen, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology and of physics, is the lead author of a new study that challenges conventional theories about the fluid nature of cell membranes and how they react to tension. Scientists have long believed that membranes act like a viscous liquid, similar to honey, and that tension could be transmitted almost instantly from one side of a cell to the other. But Cohen and Zheng Shi, a postdoctoral fellow working in Cohen’s lab, discovered that they’re actually closer to a semisolid like Jell-O. The study was described in Cell. “The conventional picture is that the membrane is what we call a two-dimensional fluid, meaning the lipid molecules that make it up are stuck in the plane of the membrane … but within that plane those molecules can move around,” Cohen said. “It’s like people milling around in Grand Central Station — everybody is stuck to...

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