Scientists occasionally disagree over whether a particular phenomenon is real or merely a by-product of the method used to detect it. In the case of lipid rafts – organised clusters of proteins and cholesterol in the cell’s outer barrier or membrane – the debate lasted for decades. Although now accepted, they’re difficult to study. Here, a protein associated with lipid rafts is stained red and contrasts with each cell’s interior (stained blue). Fine details aren’t discernible because, a million times smaller than a toy boat, the rafts are too small to be characterized with a light microscope. Raft proteins move about and reorganise in the membrane, helping cells communicate, and there’s evidence they’re changed in human conditions including breast cancer, obesity and heart disease. Fat from our diet can alter rafts so this research may help us understand how what we eat affects disease progression.
Written by Julie Webb
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.