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The University of Southampton

BIOL6031 Cell Membranes

Module Overview

The module will discuss the structure and function of biological membranes. The course will provide an introduction to the physic-chemical properties of lipid bilayers, before discussing processes involved in the insertion of integral membrane proteins into the lipid bilayer. The course will then move on to discuss two key areas. Firstly, the role of multi-domain cell surface proteins involved in cell recognition and secondly, the components of the electron-transport chain and its relation to energy transduction including an introduction to Mitchell’s chemi-osmotic hypothesis.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to provide an understanding of the structures and functions of important membrane proteins including those involved in transport, cell recognition, and energy production.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the basic features of the structure of biological membranes.
  • Demonstrate how approaches described in one part of the module might be used to solve problems raised in another part of the module.
  • Demonstrate an ability to integrate material derived by yourself from more recent research papers into the material obtained from lecture notes.
  • Explain why membranes are described as ‘fluid’ and how their ‘fluidity’ is measured
  • Describe how the membrane proteins interact with the lipids that surround them in the membrane.
  • Describe how beta barrel proteins and alpha helical membrane proteins can be inserted into membranes, either spontaneous or with the aid of membrane protein insertion machineries.
  • Describe the biosynthesis of membrane proteins and protein insertion by the translocon, and understand physico-chemical partitioning.
  • Describe how ATP is synthesised by the ATP synthase, using a proton gradient.
  • Relate the high resolution structures of specific protein complexes to their function in generating proton gradients.
  • Explain the role of multidomain cell surface proteins in cell recognition.
  • Relate the material covered in one section of the module with material covered in the other sections and with new very recently published material.


The module will cover the structure and function of biological membranes. There will be a general introduction to membrane structure and a discussion of the biosynthesis of membrane proteins. Proteins involved in transport across the membrane will be introduced, concentrating on how their structure relates to their function. The electron transport chain and its relation to energy transduction will be covered together with an introduction to Mitchell’s chemi-osmotic hypothesis. The structure and function of specific membrane proteins involved in electron transport, proton translocation and phosphorylation in mitochondria and photosynthesis will be described and discussed in terms of our present understanding of how oxidation reactions or light energy are coupled to the synthesis of ATP. The role of multi-domain cell surface proteins in cell recognition will be described.

Special Features


Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and independent study.

Independent Study126
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Literature review with presentation  (2000 words) 35%
Written exam  (2 hours) 65%


MethodPercentage contribution
Literature review with presentation 35%
Written exam  (2 hours) 65%

Linked modules

Prerequisites: BIOL2010 or BIOL2011 or MEDI6221.

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