Predictive Laws of Membrane Elasticity: From Fundamental Principles to Practical Applications
Cell membranes are a paradigm of highly-configurable soft materials which have evolved over billions of years to control life functions with unparalleled efficiency and precision – features that scientists and engineers strive to emulate. Their superb functionality is enabled by adapted molecular architectures of lipids and sterols, the main components of cell membranes and prominent design elements in practical membrane applications. Whether biological or synthetic, lipid membranes must satisfy contradictory material requirements: they should be rigid enough to serve as protective barriers, yet fluid enough to enable molecular mobility necessary for function. Therefore, how lipids and sterols interact and how they regulate emergent membrane elasticity is critical to biological function and inspired applications including artificial cell technologies, liposomal drug-delivery, and biosensing platforms. This talk will highlight recent advances in mesoscopic investigations, using synergistic experimental and computational methods, to determine the molecular origins of membrane elasticity. Specific focus will be placed on bioinspired lipid membranes containing natural and engineered sterols. Our findings reveal universal structure-property relations across variations in lipids and sterol architectures, thus resolving a decade-long dilemma in membrane biophysics. These conclusions open new possibilities in predicting the behavior of complex biological membranes and provide a blueprint for designing artificial membranes with real-world functionalities.