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Passive transport

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Passive transport is a movement of biochemicals and other atomic or molecular substances across cell membranes without need of energy input. Unlike active transport, it does not require an input of cellular energy because it is instead driven by the tendency of the system to grow in entropy. The rate of passive transport depends on the permeability of the cell membrane, which, in turn, depends on the organization and characteristics of the membrane lipids and proteins. The four main kinds of passive transport are simple diffusion, facilitated diffusion, filtration and osmosis.


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 an area of lower concentration, 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"). Simple diffusion and osmosis are in some ways similar. Simple diffusion is the passive movement of solute from a high concentration to a lower concentration until the concentration of the solute is uniform throughout and reaches equilibrium. Osmosis is much like simple diffusion but it specifically describes the movement of water (not the solute) across a selectively permeable membrane until there is an equal concentration of water and solute on both sides of the membrane. Simple diffusion and osmosis are both forms of passive transport and require none of the cell's ATP energy.

Facilitated diffusion

Facilitated diffusion, also called carrier-mediated osmosis, is the movement of molecules across the cell membrane via special transport proteins that are embedded within the cellular membrane. Large, insoluble molecules, such as glucose, vesicles and proteins require a carrier molecule to move through the plasma membrane. 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. Facilitated diffusion is a passive process: The solutes move down the concentration gradient and don't use extra cellular energy to move. Channel proteins are another type of facilitated diffusion that allow the selective transport of one type of hydrophilic molecule across the cell membrane. Aquaporins are channel proteins that allow the passage of water across the cell membrane.

Facilitated diffusion may be achieved as a consequence of charge gradients in addition to concentration gradients. Plant cells create an unequal distribution of charge across their plasma membrane by actively taking up or excluding ions. Active transport of protons by H+ ATPases alters membrane potential allowing for facilitated passive transport of particular ions such as Potassium down their charge gradient through high affinity transporters and channels.