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Cell Membranes Problem Set

Problem 2: Lipids and aqueous barriers


While on a trip to the desert, a friend of yours was bitten by a rattlesnake. He nearly died from hemolysis, or breakage of many of his red blood cells. You have analyzed the snake venom and found three enzymes: phospholipase, which degrades phospholipids; neuraminidase, which removes cell surface carbohydrates; and protease which degrades proteins. Which of these enzymes do you think was responsible for his near fatal red blood cell hemolysis? Why?

A. The neuraminidase lysis the carbohydrate rich glycocalyx leading to cell breakage since this layer is responsible for strengthening the cell membrane.
B. The protease would degrade transmembrane proteins leading to cell lysis.

The phospholipase would degrade the phospholipids, the component of a membrane creating a barrier.

Yes, as described in the tutorial for question 1, the lipid bilayer serves as an aqueous barrier. Hemolysis, or the breaking of red blood cell membranes, would be caused by degrading phospholipids. Degrading carbohydrates or proteins of cell membranes results in the loss of membranes functions, without changing the ability of the membrane to serve as a barrier.

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