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Entropic effects enable life at extreme temperatures


Maintaining membrane integrity is a challenge at extreme temperatures. Biochemical synthesis of membrane-spanning lipids is one adaptation that organisms such as thermophilic archaea have evolved to meet this challenge and preserve vital cellular function at high temperatures. The molecular-level details of how these tethered lipids affect membrane dynamics and function, however, remain unclear. Using synthetic monolayer-forming lipids with transmembrane tethers, here, we reveal that lipid tethering makes membrane permeation an entropically controlled process that helps to limit membrane leakage at elevated temperatures relative to bilayer-forming lipid membranes. All-atom molecular dynamics simulations support a view that permeation through membranes made of tethered lipids reduces the torsional entropy of the lipids and leads to tighter lipid packing, providing a molecular interpretation for the increased transition-state entropy of leakage.

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