Passive transport

Passive transport

Passive transport means moving biochemicals and other atomic or molecular substances across membranes. Unlike active transport, this process does not involve chemical energy, because, unlike in an active transport, the transport across membrane is always coupled with the growth of entropy of the system. So passive transport is dependent on the permeability of the cell membrane, which, in turn, is dependent on the organization and characteristics of the membrane lipids and proteins. The four main kinds of passive transport are diffusion, facilitated diffusion, filtration and osmosis.


Diffusion (Simple)

Passive diffusion on a cell membrane.

Diffusion is the net movement of material from an area of high concentration to an area with lower concentration. The difference of concentration between the two areas is often termed as the concentration gradient, and diffusion will continue until this gradient has been eliminated. Since diffusion moves materials from an area of higher concentration to the lower, it is described as moving solutes "down the concentration gradient" (compared with active transport, which often moves material from area of low concentration to area of higher concentration, and therefore referred to as moving the material "against the concentration gradient").

Facilitated diffusion

Facilitated diffusion on a cell membrane.

Facilitated diffusion, also called carrier-mediated diffusion, is the movement of molecules across the cell membrane via special transport proteins that are embedded within the cellular membrane. Many large molecules, such as glucose, are insoluble in lipids and too large to fit through the membrane pores. Therefore, it will bind with its specific carrier proteins, and the complex will then be bonded to a receptor site and moved through the cellular membrane. Bear in mind, however, that facilitated diffusion is a passive process, and the solutes still move down the concentration gradient.


Filtration diagram.svg

Filtration is movement of water and solute molecules across the cell membrane due to hydrostatic pressure generated by the cardiovascular system. Depending on the size of the membrane pores, only solutes of a certain size may pass through it. For example, the membrane pores of the Bowman's capsule in the kidneys are very small, and only albumins, the smallest of the proteins, have any chance of being filtered through. On the other hand, the membrane pores of liver cells are extremely large, to allow a variety of solutes to pass through and be metabolized.


Effect of osmosis on blood cells under different solutions.

Osmosis is the diffusion of water molecules across a selectively permeable membrane. The net movement of water molecules through a partially permeable membrane from a solution of high water potential to an area of low water potential. A cell with a less negative water potential will draw in water but this depends on other factors as well such as solute potential (pressure in the cell e.g. solute molecules) and pressure potential (external pressure e.g. cell wall).

See also

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