PrimerMembranes and evolution
Review articleOpen access

SummaryBiological membranes are thin amphiphilic sheaths, only a few nanometres thick, that define both the boundaries of all cells as well as the diversity of the internal compartments in eukaryotes. The plasma membrane of a typical prokaryote houses about 20–30% of the cell’s expressed proteins, and its lipids account for approximately 10% of the cell’s dry mass. The numbers for eukaryotic cells are comparable — the difference in surface area to volume ratio is overall compensated by the eukaryotic endomembrane system. Roughly a fourth of the protein encoded by the human genome carries at least one stretch of sequence predicted to serve as a transmembrane domain. Membranes host substrate exchange, sensing and communication, and life-giving energy conservation via chemiosmotic ATP synthesis.

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