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An illustration of a phospholipid shows a hydrophilic head group composed of phosphate connected to a three-carbon glycerol molecule, and two hydrophobic tails composed of long hydrocarbon chains.
This phospholipid molecule is composed of a hydrophilic head and two hydrophobic tails. The hydrophilic head group consists of a phosphate-containing group attached to a glycerol molecule. The hydrophobic tails, each containing either a saturated or an unsaturated fatty acid, are long hydrocarbon chains.

This characteristic is vital to the structure of a plasma membrane because, in water, phospholipids tend to become arranged with their hydrophobic tails facing each other and their hydrophilic heads facing out. In this way, they form a lipid bilayer—a barrier composed of a double layer of phospholipids that separates the water and other materials on one side of the barrier from the water and other materials on the other side. In fact, phospholipids heated in an aqueous solution tend to spontaneously form small spheres or droplets (called micelles or liposomes), with their hydrophilic heads forming the exterior and their hydrophobic tails on the inside ( [link] ).

The image on the left shows a spherical lipid bilayer. The image on the right shows a smaller sphere that has a single lipid layer only. The image at the bottom shows a lipid bilayer sheet.
In an aqueous solution, phospholipids tend to arrange themselves with their polar heads facing outward and their hydrophobic tails facing inward. (credit: modification of work by Mariana Ruiz Villareal)


Proteins make up the second major component of plasma membranes. Integral proteins (some specialized types are called integrins) are, as their name suggests, integrated completely into the membrane structure, and their hydrophobic membrane-spanning regions interact with the hydrophobic region of the the phospholipid bilayer ( [link] ). Single-pass integral membrane proteins usually have a hydrophobic transmembrane segment that consists of 20–25 amino acids. Some span only part of the membrane—associating with a single layer—while others stretch from one side of the membrane to the other, and are exposed on either side. Some complex proteins are composed of up to 12 segments of a single protein, which are extensively folded and embedded in the membrane ( [link] ). This type of protein has a hydrophilic region or regions, and one or several mildly hydrophobic regions. This arrangement of regions of the protein tends to orient the protein alongside the phospholipids, with the hydrophobic region of the protein adjacent to the tails of the phospholipids and the hydrophilic region or regions of the protein protruding from the membrane and in contact with the cytosol or extracellular fluid.

The left part of this illustration shows an integral membrane protein with a single alpha-helix that spans the membrane. The middle part shows a protein with several alpha-helices spanning the membrane. The right part shows a protein with two beta-sheets spanning the membrane.
Integral membranes proteins may have one or more alpha-helices that span the membrane (examples 1 and 2), or they may have beta-sheets that span the membrane (example 3). (credit: “Foobar”/Wikimedia Commons)

Peripheral proteins are found on the exterior and interior surfaces of membranes, attached either to integral proteins or to phospholipids. Peripheral proteins, along with integral proteins, may serve as enzymes, as structural attachments for the fibers of the cytoskeleton, or as part of the cell’s recognition sites. These are sometimes referred to as “cell-specific” proteins. The body recognizes its own proteins and attacks foreign proteins associated with invasive pathogens.

Questions & Answers

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lilian Reply
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The scientific study of life.
the virus that causes mumps in humans is composed of a protein outer Shell containing a core of DNA
Daniel Reply
Basic science and applied science question about cancer
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what are the importance of ATPs
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How can biology be studied from a microscopic approach to a global approach
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The large central opening in the poriferan body is called
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You go for a long walk on a hot day. Give an example of a way in which homeostasis keeps your body healthy.
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You sweat.
sweating is your bodies way of keeping you from overheating.
Thank you
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Biology is the study of Life
is the branch of science which deals with the of living things.
what is metabolism
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Describe the steps and results of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Natalia Reply
tag and release wolves into Yellowstone. wolves eventually reproduce and the pack grows. as wolves hunt they cull the sick and weak prey. the carcass that is left provides food for other species (scavengers and insect.. etc). this heals the circle of life and contributes to the biodiversity...
before you know it species that are critical to the eco system return. having apex predators is crucial to an ecosystem... it helps run the deer and elk , etc around.
example: there was a species of shrub/ plant that grows along river banks that moose love to eat.. the moose have no predator so they decimate that food source which also helps prevent erosion. when the wolves were reintroduced this changed. oddly enough this plant species started to repopulate in
the areas where wolf feces sat and decayed
which of the following statements about the parts of an egg are false?
Israel Reply
Monotremes include...?
medicinal plants including microbs
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,medicinal plants including microbes
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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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