Charged molecules, such as DNA and proteins, are present throughout biological systems.
Membranes, a bilayer of these charged lipid molecules, are used to compartmentalize matter in a variety of structural forms, from spherical vesicles to helical nanoribbons to cochleates.
"In biology, molecules take the form of many coexisting shapes.
Some are decided based on the variations placed upon them, such as concentrations of pH or salt," said Monica Olvera de la Cruz, Lawyer Taylor Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering.
The team's findings were published in a paper, titled "Electrostatic Shape Control of a Charged Molecular Membrane from Ribbon to Scroll," on October 14 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using a combination of microscopy techniques and small- and wide-angle x-ray scattering, the team studied changes to the membrane shape of a charged amphiphilic molecule called C16-K1, composed of a hydrophilic single amino acid headgroup and a 16-carbon-long hydrophobic tail.