Why is the tail hydrophobic?
Phospholipids are amphipathic molecules. This means that they have a hydrophilic, polar phosphate head and two hydrophobic fatty acid tails. These components of the phospholipids cause them to orientate themselves, so the phosphate head can interact with water and the fatty acid tails can't, hence forming a bilayer.
Lipids are fats, like oil, that are insoluble in water. There are two important regions of a lipid that provide the structure of the lipid bilayer. Each lipid molecule contains a hydrophilic region, also called a polar head region, and a hydrophobic, or nonpolar tail region.
- The Water Race: Hydrophobic & Hydrophilic Surfaces. Nonpolar molecules that repel the water molecules are said to be hydrophobic; molecules forming ionic or a hydrogen bond with the water molecule are said to be hydrophilic.
- If a substance is hydrophobic, it does not dissolve in water. Lipids are hydrophobic because lipids are nonpolar molecules and water molecules are polar.
- A single phospholipid molecule has a phosphate group on one end, called the “head,” and two side-by-side chains of fatty acids that make up the lipid “tails. ” The phosphate group is negatively charged, making the head polar and hydrophilic, or “water loving.”
In biological systems, the phospholipids often occur with other molecules (e.g., proteins, glycolipids, sterols) in a bilayer such as a cell membrane. Lipid bilayers occur when hydrophobic tails line up against one another, forming a membrane of hydrophilic heads on both sides facing the water.
- Cell membranes serve as barriers and gatekeepers. They are semi-permeable, which means that some molecules can diffuse across the lipid bilayer but others cannot. Small hydrophobic molecules and gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide cross membranes rapidly.
- The Fluid Mosaic Model states that membranes are composed of a Phospholipid Bilayer with various protein molecules floating around within it. The 'Fluid' part represents how some parts of the membrane can move around freely, if they are not attached to other parts of the cell.
- Introduction Triacylglycerols, also known as triglycerides, are the simplest lipids formed by fatty acids. Triacylglycerols are nonpolar, hydrophobic, and insoluble in water. This is due to the ester linked bond between the polar hydroxyls of glycerol and the polar carboxylates of the fatty acids.
Updated: 2nd October 2019