June 21, 2020

duodenal cells
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Cell membrane proteins

How I started

This project began in 1982. That's a lot of time to spend, getting close to half a century. 

It started off when I wondered why the proteins in intestinal cells faced in a certain direction.  

The rectangular intestinal cells that line our gut have proteins lining the membrane that holds in the cytoplasm. The heads of those proteins poking out into the intestinal fluid have the same orientation as the tails of the proteins poking into the cytoplasm at the base of the cells.

This means that a glucose molecule catches a one-directional protein “train” from the gut at the apex of the cell and then is forced to follow that same direction at the base of the cell to the blood.  It's as if the proteins were in a relay race, passing glucose molecules from one protein to the next.

Does it makes sense?

Yes, otherwise how would nutrients make it into the blood. But why and how does this happen?

These proteins are called cell membrane receptors. I read a lot about receptors over the years. But to understand proteins and shuttling glucose and ions back and forth, I had to understand ions. And to really understand ions, I hd to understand water.

You'd think water is easy to grasp as a concept. But water is the most versatile and chameleon-like molecule around. I wrote a book about water, fog, clouds ("Turning fog into beer"). But then I wanted to have a different approach, which is what you see with this website.

From water, my path moved into atoms, particularly the magical hydrogen atom and its electrons. And why - really why - chemical bonds form. 

See what's new!

What makes water explosive? why is water clear and transparent? What makes fog so murky?

Where I am now

This is where I am at this point in time (June, 2020). I have a strong understanding of water, ions, and proteins within cells. I have a well-developed concept for how proteins enable disease within cells. I have a developing appreciation for how bonds form. 

The thing is: reading about water, ions, proteins, receptors and chemical bonds has allowed me to approach the material differently than others. I have formed my own concepts of how things work. It helps me make sense of the chemistry and physics of life. 

For example, it doesn't make sense that fog and clouds are only condensations of minute droplets of water. Of course, that is part of their structure. But what holds the liquid water droplets in place? Why don't they coalesce into larger droplets within the cloud? 

Where I want to be

I have all these concepts images, and ideas jostling in my brain. I want to be able to present them to you in a way that makes sense. At the same time, I want to be able to convince you that the ideas have validity based on our current research. And the concepts have to be able to make sense across disciplines. 

For example, if I can explain water droplets in fog and clouds, I should be able to explain steam, ice, and snow.

Picture credits:

  1. By D. Kucharski K. Kucharska. Shutterstock ID: 1281821149. Human small intestine (Duodenum) section under the microscope.
  2. 140264jd. Sell membrane. Flickr photo-sharing. Taken on Oct 27, 2011.

About the author 

Juman Hijab

Juman has been in clinical practice as a physician for more than three decades. Her lifelong interest has been in the chemistry of life.

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