Category Archives: Cell biology

Signal Transduction and Apoptosis

Last lesson we learned about the different types of signalling molecules (plant and animal hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines and phermones). Today we will learn what happens when these signalling molecules reach their target cells, causing a response in the cell. Lipophobic (hydrophilic) signalling molecules cannot pass through the cell membrane, so they rely on complementary protein receptors that are embedded in the cell membrane. Once the signalling molecule – or ligand – binds to the receptor protein, secondary messenger molecules are released inside the target cell. Learn more about the specifics of signal transduction here:

Signal transduction from the Penguin Prof Channel

Signal transduction from Mr Bozeman (simple animated diagrams with commentary)

In the video above, observe one of the consequences of signal transduction – apoptosis or programmed cell death.

Cupcake mitosis


Students in Year 11 Biology are learning the phases of mitosis, so we baked and decorated these cupcakes. Students now have a good understanding of what happens inside the nucleus during:

  • Interphase
  • Prophase
  • Metaphase
  • Anaphase
  • Telophase and
  • Cytokinesis.

Watch the Cells Alive Interactive and describe where in each cycle are the three checkpoints that allow DNA replication and mitosis to continue. Why is it incorrect to suggest that the cell is “resting” during interphase, between mitotic cycles?

Transport across Cell Membranes


In Year 11 we will be concentrating on passive transport across cell membranes, diffusion and osmosis. In Year 12 we will learn more about active transport across cell membranes, which requires the cell to use energy (ATP). There are various forms of active transport across membranes, including:

  • exocytosis (out of the cell)
  • endocytosis (into the cell)
  • phagocytosis (solids, like bacteria or other foreign materials)
  • pinocytosis (liquids)

Today in Year 11, we completed an experiment using cores of potato in several different concentrations of sugar solution. Weighing the potato discs before and after the experiment, we expected the samples placed in distilled water would increase in mass (due to water moving into the cells by osmosis) and the samples placed in concentrated sugar solution would decrease in mass (due to a net movement of water out of the cells). We also used microscopes to observe thin sections of rhubarb, demonstrating how the cell membrane shrinks away from the cell wall when placed in concentrated sugar solution.

In Year 12, we took identical cores of beetroot and placed them into distilled water in test-tubes in water baths of different temperatures (frozen beetroot core, room temperature, 50C and 70C). After 30 minutes, the beetroot cores are removed and the colour of the remaining water is observed. From this, you can infer that the damage to the cell membrane at 70C is greatest, because the greater amount of pigment has been released from the beetroot cells, giving the water a darker pink colour. Some pigment was also released from the frozen core and at 50C, indicating that the cell membrane has ruptured.


Mycoplasma mycoides


Illustration by David S. Goodsell, the Scripps Research Institute

This amazing watercolour painting shows an entire Mycoplasma mycoides cell, a bacterium that causes lung disease in cows, is painted with a brilliant green membrane that brings grass to mind. Inside, bright yellow DNA curls next to protein-builders in purple and blue. In life, this bacterium is about 250 nanometres in diameter. Click on the link to identify the membrane proteins, enzymes and other protein synthesis organelles. How beautiful is this?!

Read more about Art and Science here.

Connecting with GTAC to learn about Diabetes



On Monday, our students had the opportunity to connect with Maria and Fran at GTAC to learn about signaling molecules, insulin disorders and diabetes. Fran presented information about how molecules transmit signals across the cell membrane to allow glucose (and other substances) to be absorbed at a greater rate. Students modelled this process using paper cut-outs, showing how the message is passed from the insulin receptor, to the transmission molecules, to the effector molecules (vesicles with GLUT4 glucose transporter molecules attached), which allow more protein channels to be situated in the cell membrane. The normal response is that more glucose is absorbed by the cell, but several disorders can result in glucose not being absorbed, such as Type I and Type II diabetes. Students observed diagnostics on blood samples to determine if test patients are diabetic. They then applied the stimulus response model to learn the effect of insulin on glucose homeostasis and explore the role of insulin in cell signaling.

Apoptosis – programmed cell death

“Apoptosis is a process where a cell is degraded in order for it to be ultimately engulfed and recycled. Apoptosis can occur when a cell has become mutated and is on the verge of becoming a cancer. Apoptosis is also the reason why we don’t have webbed hands and feet. What basically happens is that the killer “t” cell communicates with the diseased cell by adhering to it by binding its death ligand to the death receptor on the diseased cell. This causes adapter proteins to attach to the cytosolic side of the receptor. This leads to a signal cascade which involves the recruitment of various other proteins and ultimately results in the death of the cell.” ~ bowlerdude on YouTube.

  1. What is the difference between apoptosis and necrosis?
  2. What is the difference between apoptosis and autophagy?



Effect of temperature on cell membranes using beetroot




Image source

In the egg osmosis experiment we used a chicken egg as a model of an animal cell to demonstrate the movement of water across a semi-permeable membrane. We have learned about the different components of the plasma membrane, including the phospholipid bilayer, integral and peripheral proteins, glycoproteins and glycolipids. We know that it is sometimes referred to as a “fluid mosaic” referring to it’s flexible structure of different parts.

Today we are going to test the effect of temperature and solvents on the cell membrane, using cores of raw beetroot. Beetroot is brightly coloured due to the presence of betalain and this coloured pigment can assist us to determine the effect of different temperatures and concentrations of solvents on the cell membrane. When the cell membrane is damaged, the pigment leaks out, so the more damage that occurs, the darker the colour of the medium into which the pigment leaks.

Your task is to design and complete an experiment with an aim, hypothesis, list of materials and equipment, method, results, discussion and conclusion. Your variable can be temperature OR concentration of a solvent (ethanol, for example) or detergent.


An egg as a model cell


Image source

A chicken egg with the shell removed is often used as a model to show how osmosis works – the experiment we did at Federation University, Ballarat, showed how the eggs gain or lose mass depending on the concentration of the solution that they are placed in. It is important to know that the membrane of the egg is not a true biological membrane or plasma membrane. In fact, a chicken egg is a very specialized cell and the membrane is actually composed of keratin fibres – the same protein that makes up human hair, finger nails and rhino horns. Thanks to Andrew Douch for finding this article about chicken egg membranes, with scanning electron micrograph images.

Notice in the image above, the egg in 5% saline solution sinks (indicating that the egg contents are more dense than the solution) and the egg in the 10% saline solution floats (indicating that the egg contents are less dense than the solution). This image should give you a clue as to which egg gains water and which egg loses water by osmosis.