Date of Award

Spring 2010

Degree Type


Graduate Group

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

First Advisor

Dennis E. Discher

Second Advisor

Tobias Baumgart


Phase and shape heterogeneities in biomembranes are of functional importance. However, it is difficult to elucidate the roles membrane heterogeneities play in maintaining cellular function due to the complexity of biomembranes. Therefore, investigations of phase behavior and composition/curvature coupling in lipid and polymer model membranes offer some advantages.

In this thesis, phase properties in lipid and polymer giant vesicles were studied. Line tension at the fluid/fluid phase boundary of giant lipid unilamellar vesicles was determined directly by micropipette aspiration, and found to be composition-dependent. Dynamics of calcium-induced domains within polyanionic vesicles subject to chemical stimuli were investigated, which revealed the strength of molecular interaction and suggested applications in triggered delivery.

In addition, curvature sorting of lipids and proteins was examined. Lipid membrane tethers were pulled from giant unilamellar vesicles using two micropipettes and a bead. Tether radius can be controlled and measured in this system. By examining fluorescence intensity of labeled molecules as a function of curvature, we found that DiI dyes (lipid analogues with spontaneous curvatures) had no curvature preference down to radii of 10 nm. Theoretical calculation predicted that the distribution of small lipids was dominated by entropy instead of bending energy. However protein Cholera toxin subunit B was efficiently sorted away from the high positive curvature due to its negative spontaneous curvature. Bending stiffness was determined to decrease as curvature increased in homogeneous membranes with ternary lipid mixtures near a critical consulate point, revealing the strong preferential intermolecular interactions of such mixtures. In addition, diffusion controlled domain growth was observed in tethers pulled from phase-separated vesicles, which provides a new dynamic sorting principle for lipids and proteins in curvature gradients.