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.
This week’s practical experiment involves using chicken’s eggs as a model for the cell – even though the egg is not a single animal cell, it is a good model because it has a semi-permeable membrane that shows the effect of osmosis on animal tissue.
“The plasma membrane of the cell is essential for separating the extracellular and intracellular environments. Made of a semipermeable bilayer of phospholipids embedded with proteins, the plasma membrane acts as a molecular gatekeeper to prevent certain substances from crossing, while granting access to others. Simple elements and compounds, like water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide may easily pass through. Larger, more complex molecules like carbohydrates and proteins must seek aid from the carrier proteins within the bilayer in a process known as facilitated diffusion.
Diffusion is the movement of molecules down a concentration gradient from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. Simple diffusion is an example of passive transport, which occurs without energy input from the cell. Similarly, osmosis, or the movement of water molecules across a membrane from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration, does not require energy input from the cell. Cells existing in an extracellular environment that has a higher solute concentration than inside of the cell are in a hypertonic solution. When the extracellular solute concentration is lower than intracellular solute concentration, the cell exists in a hypotonic solution. In an isotonic solution, the extracellular and intracellular solute concentrations are the same.” from http://www.sd5.k12.mt.us/ghs/sci/young/documents/Lab–EggOsmosis.pdf
In this experiment, which solutions will cause water to move into the egg (cell) and which solutions will cause water to move out of the egg?
More pictures of this experiment here: An Egg-sellent Osmosis Experiment