The hydrophobic effect and the organization of living matter

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  02 Jun 1978:
Vol. 200, Issue 4345, pp. 1012-1018
DOI: 10.1126/science.653353


Biological organization may be viewed as consisting of two stages: biosynthesis and assembly. The assembly process is largely under thermodynamic control; that is, as a first approximation it represents a search by each structural molecule for its state of lowest chemical potential. The hydrophobic effect is a unique organizing force, based on repulsion by the solvent instead of attractive forces at the site of organization. It is responsible for assembly of membranes of cells and intracellular compartments, and the absence of strong attractive forces makes the membranes fluid and deformable. The spontaneous folding of proteins, however, involves directed polar bonds, leading to more rigid structures. Intercellular organization probably involves polar bonds between cell surface proteins.