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The Process of Homeostasis in Cells

Amanda Robb, Ebony Potts
  • Author
    Amanda Robb

    Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

  • Instructor
    Ebony Potts

    Ebony has taught middle and high school physical science, life science & biology. She's also been an assistant principal and has a doctorate in educational administration.

Understand how the cell membrane helps maintain homeostasis. Know what homeostasis is and why the cell membrane is so important for maintaining homeostasis. Updated: 09/28/2021

What is Homeostasis in Cells?

Homeostasis is a set of internal conditions maintained by living systems that allow organisms to function best. Homeostasis is important for maintaining stable internal conditions despite a changing environment. All cells must maintain homeostasis to stay alive.

Definition of Homeostasis

Have you ever been really hot or really cold? What about very hungry or extremely full? Are either of those conditions comfortable for you? Of course they aren't. Most organisms want to maintain conditions that are somewhere in between the extremes. This ideal set of conditions is called homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the set of internal conditions in which an organism functions at its best. Every organism is in a constant fight to maintain homeostasis, and every single cell in the organism is a part of the battle. Every organelle in each cell is working to maintain homeostasis, including the cell membrane. The question is, how does the cell membrane aid the cell, and ultimately the overall organism, in maintaining homeostasis?

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  • 0:04 Definition of Homeostasis
  • 0:54 Purpose of the Cell Membrane
  • 1:27 Structure of the Cell Membrane
  • 2:14 Osmosis of Water…
  • 2:45 Regulation of Ion Flow
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Maintain Homeostasis

How is homeostasis maintained? Homeostasis is maintained through negative feedback loops. A negative feedback loop occurs where the product of a pathway shuts it off. For example, there is a certain temperature range that organisms need to stay within to stay alive. For humans, the optimal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When humans get too hot and body temperature starts to go above this level, there are several mechanisms that are activated to cool us down. For example, we sweat, and blood vessels move toward the surface in our extremities and dilate to release more heat. As we cool down and go below the homeostatic temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, other mechanisms kick in, such as shivering or constriction of blood vessels. These negative feedback loops help to keep the body at the optimal temperature.

Additional examples of homeostasis include regulation of water and salt balance, glucose levels, blood pressure, and more. In animals, for example, glucose homeostasis is maintained through a negative feedback loop. When food is ingested, blood glucose levels rise. This triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin binds to the surface of cells and allows them to take up glucose from the blood. This causes blood glucose levels to drop and the pancreas stops releasing insulin. If blood glucose levels drop too low, the pancreas makes glucagon. Glucagon causes muscle and liver cells to break down glycogen into glucose and release it into the blood. This increases blood glucose levels, which causes the pancreas to stop making glucagon. The cycle continues in this way to ensure that blood glucose levels remain at homeostasis. When homeostasis cannot be maintained disease states can manifest. For example, if the pancreas does not produce insulin or the body does not respond to insulin, a person can develop diabetes.

How Does the Cell Membrane Help Maintain Homeostasis?

The last example described a whole organism, but how do cells maintain homeostasis? The main organelle responsible for maintaining homeostasis is the cell membrane. Why is the cell membrane so important for maintaining homeostasis? The cell membrane, also known as the plasma membrane, plays an important role in homeostasis via the regulation of the passage of materials into and out of the cell. The cell membrane is made of a phospholipid bilayer.

The phospholipid bilayer

phospholipid bilayer

A phospholipid bilayer is made of two layers of phospholipids arranged like an ice cream sandwich. Each phospholipid has a hydrophilic head, which faces outward, and a hydrophobic tail, which is sandwiched inside the membrane. What helps maintain homeostasis? The presence of cholesterol in between the phospholipids and the relatively short tails keep the membrane fluid. This is important for allowing materials to move across the membrane, such as water and ions. The cell membrane also contains proteins, which help move large or charged molecules across the membrane.

The cell membrane helps maintain homeostasis in the cell

cell membrane structure

Purpose of the Cell Membrane

The job of the cell membrane is to regulate the passage of materials into and out of the cell. In order for any materials to go in or out of the cell, they must cross through the cell's membrane. The membrane decides whether that material will be allowed passage based on what is considered the optimum concentration level for that material. The cell membrane most often works specifically on the concentration of water and different types of ions. The type of cell it is will determine what the ideal concentration is for a specific material.

Structure of the Cell Membrane

The cell membrane resembles an ice cream sandwich. The outer portion, or cookie layer, is made up of a double layer of molecules called phospholipids. A phospholipid is a molecule that has a head region that carries an electric charge attached to a lipid tail portion. It resembles a balloon with a string tied to it. The lipid (tail) portion repels water and keeps it either inside or outside the cell.

The cell membrane also has molecules of cholesterol dotted at different points in the phospholipid layer. The presence of the cholesterol and short lipid tails keeps the cell membrane fluid, allowing the passage of necessary materials across its layer. This one major mechanism helps the cell with the maintenance of homeostasis.

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Video Transcript

Definition of Homeostasis

Have you ever been really hot or really cold? What about very hungry or extremely full? Are either of those conditions comfortable for you? Of course they aren't. Most organisms want to maintain conditions that are somewhere in between the extremes. This ideal set of conditions is called homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the set of internal conditions in which an organism functions at its best. Every organism is in a constant fight to maintain homeostasis, and every single cell in the organism is a part of the battle. Every organelle in each cell is working to maintain homeostasis, including the cell membrane. The question is, how does the cell membrane aid the cell, and ultimately the overall organism, in maintaining homeostasis?

Purpose of the Cell Membrane

The job of the cell membrane is to regulate the passage of materials into and out of the cell. In order for any materials to go in or out of the cell, they must cross through the cell's membrane. The membrane decides whether that material will be allowed passage based on what is considered the optimum concentration level for that material. The cell membrane most often works specifically on the concentration of water and different types of ions. The type of cell it is will determine what the ideal concentration is for a specific material.

Structure of the Cell Membrane

The cell membrane resembles an ice cream sandwich. The outer portion, or cookie layer, is made up of a double layer of molecules called phospholipids. A phospholipid is a molecule that has a head region that carries an electric charge attached to a lipid tail portion. It resembles a balloon with a string tied to it. The lipid (tail) portion repels water and keeps it either inside or outside the cell.

The cell membrane also has molecules of cholesterol dotted at different points in the phospholipid layer. The presence of the cholesterol and short lipid tails keeps the cell membrane fluid, allowing the passage of necessary materials across its layer. This one major mechanism helps the cell with the maintenance of homeostasis.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are two functions of the cell membrane that maintain homeostasis?

Two functions of the cell membrane that maintain homeostasis are regulating the movement of water into and out of the cell and regulating the transport of ions.

How does the cell regulate or maintain homeostasis?

The cell regulates or maintains homeostasis through selective permeability. This means that the cell membrane only allows certain things into and out of the cell, allowing the cell to maintain stable conditions that are different from the environment.

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