AP Biology : Understanding the Cell Membrane

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP Biology

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Example Questions

Example Question #41 : Cellular Biology

Which of the following molecules can freely diffuse through the plasma membrane?

Possible Answers:

Oxygen

Glucose

Potassium ions

Cholesterol

Correct answer:

Oxygen

Explanation:

Membranes are permeable to small, nonpolar molecules like oxygen. Though oxygen is commonly involved in polar bonds, the diatomic molecule has no net dipole, allowing it to cross the membrane. This function is essential for gas exchange, in which oxygen passes from the alveoli of the lungs into adjacent capillaries.

Cholesterol is too large to freely cross the membrane, and requires the assistance of a facilitating protein channel. Glucose is also too large and carries a polar aldehyde or ketone group, preventing it from freely crossing the membrane. Potassium ions are small, but charged. Though they could pass between the lipids of the membrane, they would be repelled by the hydrophobic region in the lipid bilayer interior.

Example Question #42 : Cellular Biology

Which of the following is a component of the cell membrane?

Possible Answers:

Cholesterol

All these are components of the cell membrane

Ribosomes

RNA

Glucose

Correct answer:

Cholesterol

Explanation:

The cell membrane is primarily made of a phospholipid bilayer. The phospholipids consist of a polar phosphate head and two nonpolar lipid tails, oriented so that the tails of each side of the bilayer face one another. Numerous proteins are found in the membrane as well, contributing to the fluid-mosaic model.

Cholesterol molecules are found in the lipid interior of the membrane, between the two layers. Its primary function is to prevent adhesion of the nonpolar tails. By stopping the tails from sticking to one another, the cholesterol helps maintain the fluidity of the membrane.

Glucose, RNA, and ribosomes are not found in the cell membrane.

Example Question #43 : Cellular Biology

Why are most cells microscopic in size?

Possible Answers:

Smaller cells require fewer nutrients, which increases their probability for survival

The ratio of cell surface area to volume is maximized

The amount of plasma membrane is minimized relative to the more stable cytoplasm

More cells are compacted into an organ when maintaining a reasonable size

Smaller cells allow unicellular organisms to be undetected by predators

Correct answer:

The ratio of cell surface area to volume is maximized

Explanation:

Cells obtain all of their nutrients across their plasma membranes. To ensure cellular function it is essential to maximize surface area, which corresponds to the amount of plasma membrane. This creates a large area available for diffusion of the necessary nutrients. While it may be more efficient for an organism to produce a few large cells instead of many small cells, the advantage of a large area for diffusion outweighs the cost of energy. Essentially, the surface area is the region of nutrient source and the volume (cytoplasm) is the region of nutrient consumption. For the cell to survive, it must maximize the amount of source nutrients and minimize the amount of nutrient consumption.

The statements that smaller cells are difficult to be detected by predators and require fewer nutrients for survival are both true, but are not the major reasons why cells are microscopic in size.

Example Question #44 : Cellular Biology

Which of the following would not move by passive diffusion across a cell membrane?

Possible Answers:

Progesterone

Correct answer:

Explanation:

The plasma membrane is only permeable to small nonpolar molecules. Charged ions, polar solutes, and large solutes can excluded, and require protein mediators to cross the membrane.

Oxygen and carbon dioxide are small molecules with no net dipole; though the bonds themselves may be polar, the symmetry of these molecules causes them to carry no net polarity. Oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse across the membranes of alveoli in the lungs during reoxygenation. Progesterone is a steroid hormone, indicating that it is a small cholesterol derivative. Steroid hormones are capable of diffusing across the membrane due to their lipophilic nature.

Ions do not undergo simple diffusion. Instead, they are carried across the cell membrane by alternative means, such as active transport. This is essential for maintaining electrochemical gradients, such as the proton gradient in mitochondria and the sodium-potassium gradient in neurons.

Example Question #45 : Cellular Biology

Which of the following is true regarding the fluid mosaic model?

Possible Answers:

There are only peripheral proteins present in the cell membrane

There are only transmembrane proteins present in the cell membrane

The lipid bilayer contains hydrophilic heads facing inward and hydrophobic tails facing outward

The lipid bilayer contains hydrophilic heads facing outward and hydrophobic tails facing inward

There is no cholesterol present in the cell membrane

Correct answer:

The lipid bilayer contains hydrophilic heads facing outward and hydrophobic tails facing inward

Explanation:

The fluid mosaic model is used to explain the fluidity of the plasma membrane. This allows proteins to move along and within the membrane structure and promotes cell motility and flexibility. The fluid mosaic model is based on the idea of the hydrophilic heads facing the exterior of the membrane and hydrophobic tails facing the interior. Transmembrane proteins contain hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions in the same orientation, while peripheral proteins are able to adhere to the membrane exterior. Cholesterol is found within the hydrophobic region of the membrane and promotes fluidity and movement by preventing fatty acid tails from adhering to one another.

Example Question #46 : Cellular Biology

What occurs when a cell is placed in a solution that is hypertonic to the cell? 

Possible Answers:

The cell will shrivel, and then return to normal 

The cell will lyse 

Nothing will happen to the cell 

The cell will shrivel 

The cell will enlarge, and then return to normal 

Correct answer:

The cell will shrivel 

Explanation:

If a solution is hypotonic to a cell, then it contains fewer solutes than the cell. If a solution is hypertonic to a cell, then it contains more solutes than the cell.

In a hypertonic environment, the external environment of the cell has a higher concentration of non-penetrating solutes. The solutes are unable to cross the cell membrane to create equilibrium. Instead, water will try to balance the concentrations by moving toward the region of greater solutes. This process of osmosis will cause water to leave the cell, and the cell will shrivel.

Example Question #47 : Cellular Biology

Which of the following most enhances membrane fluidity? 

Possible Answers:

Phospholipid hyrophilic head 

Integral membrane proteins 

Saturated hydrocarbon tails of phospholipids 

Peripheral membrane proteins 

Unsaturated hydrocarbon tails of phospholipids 

Correct answer:

Unsaturated hydrocarbon tails of phospholipids 

Explanation:

The cell membrane is composed of a phospholipid bilayer. Each phospholipid molecule contains two fatty acid tails. Saturated fatty acid tails will be straight, encouraging the molecules to pack together. The unsaturated hydrocarbon tails contain kinks that prevent packing, allowing enhanced membrane fluidity. The other main component of membrane fluidity is cholesterol molecules, which also help to prevent packing in the hydrophobic region of the membrane.

Peripheral membrane proteins are situated outside of the membrane, and do not influence fluidity. Integral membrane proteins span the entire bilayer, but do not impact the overall fluidity.

Example Question #11 : Understanding The Cell Membrane

Which of the following is not a function of the cell membrane?

Possible Answers:

Regulate glucose levels in the cell

Regulate sodium ion levels in the cell

Regulate carbon dioxide levels in the cell

Regulate water content in the cell

Regulate calcium ion content in the cell

Correct answer:

Regulate carbon dioxide levels in the cell

Explanation:

The cell membrane is a lipid bilayer that is hydrophilic on the outside and hydrophobic on the inside. Proteins are embedded in the membrane to assist in regulating the passage of various compounds into and out of the cell. Only certain molecules can cross the membrane without protein assistance. The cell tightly regulates the production of membrane proteins to maintain the environment of the cell, but cannot do anything to regulate the molecules that cross the membrane without protein assistance.

These molecules that can freely cross the membrane must be both small and nonpolar. Carbon dioxide is small (only three atoms) and is nonpolar due to its linear symmetry. Carbon dioxide is thus able to diffuse across the membrane, and cannot be regulated by membrane proteins.

Sodium and chloride ions are small enough to cross the membrane, but carry a charge than makes it impossible for them to cross the hydrophobic region. Water is also quite small, but is barred from the membrane due to its polarity. Glucose is both large and polar and requires proteins for membrane transport.

Example Question #11 : Understanding The Cell Membrane

The cell membrane has many functions. One of the most important is facilitating the passage of molecules into and out of the cell. Some molecules can freely pass through the membrane, while others require a channel in order to enter or leave.

Which of the following molecules will pass most freely through the cell membrane?

Possible Answers:

Glucose (C6H12O6)

Oxygen (O2)

Insulin

Sodium ions (Na+)

Water (H2O)

Correct answer:

Oxygen (O2)

Explanation:

The cell membrane is the most permeable to small, nonpolar molecules. Sodium ions (Na+) and water (H2O) are both small, but Na+ is charged and H2O is highly polarized. Both will therefore have a difficult time passing freely through the cell membrane. Water has some ability to cross the membrane, but it generally requires facilitated diffusion. Glucose (C6H12O6) is a large, polar molecule, and requires a protein channel in order to cross the membrane. Insulin is a peptide hormone, meaning that it is composed of amino acids. As such, it is both large and polar. Generally, insulin will bind to a receptor on the cell surface in order to elicit an effect; it will rarely cross the membrane at all.

Oxygen (O2), which is small and nonpolar, can easily diffuse across the membrane. This is essential for loading hemoglobin in the lungs and releasing oxygen in capillaries.

Example Question #12 : Understanding The Cell Membrane

When a red blood cell is placed into a hypertonic solution it will __________.

Possible Answers:

lose water to the extracellular environment

not be affected, since it lacks a nucleus

lyse

gain water from the extracellular environment

lose ions to the extracellular environment

Correct answer:

lose water to the extracellular environment

Explanation:

A hypertonic solution implies that there is a higher concentration of solute outside of the cell than inside. To balance this difference in concentration, water from inside the cell will diffuse across the membrane and the cell will shrivel. If the solution were hypotonic to the cell, the opposite would happen: the cell would take in water from the solution, causing it to swell and potentially burst (lyse).

Though red blood cells do lack a nucleus, this is not related to the question at hand.

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