What is a Hypertonic Solution?
Though the cell is the basic unit of all life, there is nothing basic about it. Cells require very specific conditions to be able to function properly. Temperature and the amount of water and nutrients must all be just right in order for a cell to be healthy, and these optimal conditions vary depending on the organism.
The amount of fluid both inside and outside a cell is one condition that is very important, and this fluid amount is often determined by the amount of solutes outside of the cell. Solutes are the particles that are dissolved in a solvent, and together they form a solution. In your body, these solutes are ions like sodium and potassium.
There are three types of solutions that can occur in your body based on solute concentration: isotonic, hypotonic, and hypertonic. An isotonic solution is one in which the concentration of solutes is the same both inside and outside of the cell. A hypotonic solution is one in which the concentration of solutes is greater inside the cell than outside of it, and a hypertonic solution is one where the concentration of solutes is greater outside the cell than inside it.
How Different Solutions Affect Your Cells
For the cells in your body, the ideal solution is an isotonic solution. This is because water (which is the major solvent in your body) likes to diffuse from an area of low-solute concentration to an area of high-solute concentration. This process is called osmosis. Water does this because, by diffusing to where there are more solutes, it essentially evens out the ratio of solvent and solute.
When human cells are in a hypotonic solution, water will rush into the cell by osmosis, which is not good for the cell because it will fill with water and burst, or lyse. Plant cells actually prefer hypotonic solutions because they have a rigid cell wall that needs the pressure from extra water inside the cell to stay rigid and firm.
A hypertonic solution will do just the opposite to a cell since the concentration of solutes is greater outside of the cell than inside. For both human and plant cells, the water will rush out of the cell, and it will shrivel up. When this happens to a plant cell, it is called a plasmolyzed cell.
So, why is it bad for cells to shrivel? When a cell is placed in a hypertonic solution, it shrinks in size, which means that there is less volume to contain all of the important organelles and other structures inside. And even though the ratio of solutes to solvent becomes more similar due to osmosis, there are now more solutes crowded together inside the cell as well. As mentioned before, cells also require a certain amount of water inside to function correctly, and together all of these imbalances can cause problems with cell functioning and processes.
Examples of Hypertonic Solutions
A hypertonic solution may be any solution that has a greater concentration of solutes outside of the cell, and one example of this is saline solutions used in medical care. Saline solutions are used to provide fluids intravenously as well as for contact lens care.
Corn syrup and glucose solutions are also hypertonic because they contain more sugars than what are present in your cells. Your cells contain a certain amount of salt, but if you placed them in a solution of salt water that has a concentration of salt higher than what is naturally found in your cells, this solution would be hypertonic.
Let's review. Hypertonic solutions are ones that have a higher solute concentration than that of the cell. Hypertonic solutions cause cells to shrivel and shrink in size, which can cause problems and inhibit proper cell functioning. When solutions surrounding cells are hypertonic, this will cause the organism to become dehydrated, which can lead to problems such as organ failure. Maintaining the correct balance of water and solutes will ensure that your body stays healthy.
After you have finished, you should be able to:
- Identify the three types of solutions found in your body
- Recall how the different types of solutions affect your cells
- Explain how a hypertonic solution can have negative effects on cell function
- List examples of hypertonic solutions
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Hypertonic Solution Word Search Activity
This activity will help you assess your knowledge of the definition, effect, and example of a hypertonic solution.
For this activity, you'll need a printer to reproduce the following page. Search for and circle or highlight the words that will complete each of the given clues. Afterward, neatly write them in the appropriate blank spaces in the clues.
- The cellular functioning of a cell is disrupted when it _____.
- Any substance that is dissolved in a liquid solvent to create a solution is called a _____.
- _____ is an example of a solute that is needed by the body to function normally.
- The net movement of molecules from a _____ gradient is known as osmosis.
- A sufficient amount of _____ is required inside the cell to function correctly.
- Plasmolysis is the process in which cells lose water and shrivel up in a _____ solution.
- _____ are the basic building blocks of all living things.
- Plant cells that are in a hypotonic solution would swell up but do not burst due to their _____ cell wall.
- _____ refers to two solutions that stabilize into equal concentrations of solutes.
- Cells that are placed in a _____ solution will swell up and even burst.
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