Professor Owe Orwar and his team of scientists from Chalmers, and the Université Paris Diderot, France, show that adhering lipid bilayer membranes and cell membranes can break in fractal patterns just as plastics and other solid materials.
It has been generally accepted that bilayer membranes rupture only through circular pore formation. However, when the Chalmers team studied membrane, and cell spreading on solid supports, different rupture morphologies and dynamics were observed.
Ruptures proceeded in a series of rapidly intermittent avalanches, causing fractal membrane fragmentation-very much like crack propagation in earth quakes.
Cell membrane rupture under mechanical load is an important physiological process, and since membrane adhesion is widespread in biological cells, the results suggest that the newly discovered rupture mechanism is also naturally occurring.
The work was possible through generous grants by the European Research Council (ERC advanced grant) and by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.