Why are transport proteins needed to move certain substances across a cell membrane?

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ncchemist eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cellular membranes can be thought of as the best of both worlds.  They have a highly polar polyphosphate backbone on the outer surfaces and a highly nonpolar interior made of lipid hydrocarbon chains.  As such, there are few compounds that could naturally make their way through both of these polar opposite environments.  As such, there are proteins called transport proteins that are actually embedded in the cell membrane and span it, thus connecting the interior of the cell with the exterior.  The transport proteins are designed to allow specific substances to traverse the membrane while keeping everything else out.

richard-damant | Student

he cell is bound by an outer membrane that, in accord with the fluid mosaic model, is comprised of a phospholipid lipid bilayer with proteins—molecules that also act as receptor sites—interspersed within the phospholipid bilayer. Varieties of channels exist within the membrane. There are a number of internal cellular membranes that partially partition the intercellular matrix, and that ultimately become continuous with the nuclear membrane.

There are three principal mechanisms of outer cellular membrane transport (i.e., means by which molecules can pass through the boundary cellular membrane). The transport mechanisms are passive, or gradient diffusion, facilitated diffusion, and active transport.