MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: do the nonpoler ends in the bilipid layer repell each other?

Date: Thu Oct 21 21:51:56 1999
Posted By: Melanie Stegman, Grad student, Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Cincinnati
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 940295066.Bc

Dear Stephen,

The non-polar ends of the lipid bilayer do not repel each other.  Actually 
they act as though they are attracted to each other, and the bilayer is a 
very stable structure, although there are no actual chemical bonds holding 
one layer to the other.  The reason the non polar ends are "attracted" is 
really that they are repelled by the polar molecules in the solution around 
them.  Water is very polar, and so a simple solution of water and non-polar 
molecules (like oil) will separate into polar (water) and non-polar (oil).  

All associations in nature are driven by forces that lower the "free energy 
of the system."  In this case, the non-polar molecules and the water are 
the system.  When the hydrophobic molecules are closely associated with 
water, the system has a higher energy.  When the hydrophobic molecules 
associate with each other and exclude water, the system has a lower energy.  

There are two factors to consider when determining the free energy of a 
system.  Heat and Entropy.  Entropy is disorder.  All things have a lower 
free energy state when they are disordered.  Like a classroom of kids takes 
effort to organize.  It requires energy to create order.  Heat, on the 
other hand, is given off in some reactions.  These reactions are usually 
spontaneous because the heat lost allows the system to move to a lower free 
energy state.  Reactions that require heat do not generally occur 
spontaneously.   That is because the free energy of the system would have 
to increase, and systems always move toward a lower free energy, that is 
less heat and more entropy (disorder).  Do a search for "Laws of 
Thermodynamics" for more information, and the correct equations!     

Anyway, the lipid bilayer arranges it self in a way that gives the system 
the greatest entropy.  The association of lipids with water requires the 
water and the lipids to be very ordered.  When the lipids are all balled up 
in a clump, they achieve a high entropy.  And with such high entropy, and 
needed no heat, a bilayer forms spontaneously and is very stable.  Here is 
a book that discusses the thermodynamics of lipid associations, and how 
they are so necessary in biological systems.

The Hydrophobic Effect: Formation of Micelles and Biological Membranes by 
Charles Tanford 

In this book, Tanford argues that many processes in biology are driven by 
"The Hydrophobic Effect."  That is that many biological processes require 
less energy than the average chemical reaction.  So many processes in 
biology can be driven forward simply by the energy gained from the 
hydrophobic parts of molecules come together and exclude water.  For 
instance, lipid bilayers forming automatically in water, and protein 
folding automatically in complex arrangements all because their non-polar 
parts and the water around them have more entropy when the lipids and the 
water are separate.

Melanie Stegman 

Current Queue | Current Queue for Biochemistry | Biochemistry archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Biochemistry.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-1999. All rights reserved.