Why Is the Cell Membrane Important?

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  • 0:00 What Is a Cell Membrane
  • 0:29 Importance
  • 2:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dominic Corsini
What are cell membranes and why do cells have them? Better yet, are they even important? This lesson answers those questions through an investigation into the cell membrane and its function.

What Is a Cell Membrane?

As you may know, all living things are made from cells. Each of these cells, be they plant, animal, fungus, or bacteria, has a cell membrane. The cell membrane is the semipermeable covering that surrounds all cells. To say something is semipermeable means that it will allow certain substances to pass through it, while prohibiting the passage of others. Check out this illustration depicting the location of the cell membrane in both animal and bacterial cells.

Cell Membranes


So what do cell membranes actually do, and why do they matter? Remember that our definition said that cell membranes were semipermeable and that they surrounded the cell. This leads us to two reasons for the membrane's importance:


First, the membrane forms an outer boundary of the cell and, as such, holds the cell together. The membrane is also pliable, which means it can move and flex in response to the surrounding environment. The fluid nature of the membrane is important because it allows the cell to survive in various environments. For example, if your skin cells are exposed to water for a long period of time (such as in a bath), what happens? Your fingertips shrivel up because water is able to move through the cell membrane and exit the cell. When it does, the cell membranes flex inward, causing the skin to shrivel. The skin cells on your fingertips do not die. Instead, the flexible nature of their membranes allows them to survive and eventually return to normal.


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