Bioenergetics through thick and thin

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Science  07 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6419, pp. 1114-1115
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7629

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The cells in all biological systems are composed of a limited number of molecular constituents, mainly proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. Of these, lipids tend to receive the shortest shrift, as they are typically considered to be merely the building blocks of membranes that provide a scaffold in which the “important” molecules, such as enzymes or signaling proteins, reside. In recent years, and with the advent of advanced lipidomics techniques, we have learned that “a lipid is a lipid is a lipid” is simply not true, and that the lipid composition of membranes can have profound effects on the behavior and activity of its resident macromolecules. For example, some lipids, such as members of the phosphatidylinositol family, are important signaling molecules. However, what is less appreciated is that the physical composition of lipid membranes can have profound effects on cellular behavior as well. On page 1186 of this issue, Budin et al. (1) use the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli and the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as model systems to show that the fluidity of a membrane, as determined by its lipid composition, can have huge effects on the efficiency of aerobic energy production (respiration) by the highly hydrophobic, membrane-embedded, oxidative phosphorylation (OxPhos) system.