A fluid mosaic

The basic composition and structure of the plasma membrane is the same as that of the membranes that surround organelles and other subcellular compartments. The foundation is a phospholipid bilayer, and the membrane as a whole is often described as a fluid mosaic – a two-dimensional fluid of freely diffusing lipids, dotted or embedded with proteins, which may function as channels or transporters across the membrane, or as receptors. The model was first proposed by S.J. Singer (1971) as a lipid protein model and extended to include the fluid character in a publication with G.L. Nicolson in "Science" (1972).

Some of these proteins simply adhere to the membrane (extrinsic or peripheral proteins), whereas others might be said to reside within it or to span it (intrinsic proteins – more at integral membrane protein). Glycoproteins have carbohydrates attached to their extracellular domains. Cells may vary the variety and the relative amounts of different lipids to maintain the fluidity of their membranes despite changes in temperature. Cholesterol molecules (in case of eukaryotes) or hopanoids (in case of prokaryotes) in the bilayer assist in regulating fluidity.

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