Biomembranes structure the living world. Cell membranes consisting of lipids and membrane proteins separate a cell from its environment and permit subcellular compartimentalization, creating specific microenvironments. As liquid-liquid interfaces they carry the majoritiy of cellular targets of today's drugs. Integral Membrane proteins serve as central organizing elements, directing the formation of macromolecular assemblies, intricate nano-machines that scaffold the membrane and create functional units involved in processes like membrane stabilization and membrane transport, transport of molecules across membranes and signal transduction, the exchange of information between the cell and its environment. Their functionality governed by their interfacial properties is still subject to intense research.
We envision a systemic description of structure and function of biological membranes. This requires advanced optical and spectroscopic methods that permit highest spatial and temporal resolution. Such nanoscopic techniques will be developed and adjusted to the requirements of the experimentla approaches.Theoretical approaches matching nanosystems at all levels of complexity will complete our holistic approach to biomembrane functionality at the nanoscale.
Ultimately, the generation of functional biomembrane units, of nano-structured biomimetic interfaces and the control of molecular functions by external fields will be feasible.
An excellent example for the expected level of understanding and control demonstrates the emerging field of optogenetics, as exemplified by channelrhodopsins. These integral membrane proteins function as light-induced ion channels. Combining tissue-specific expression and engineered channelrhodopsi-variants, for example, may allow to specifically induce calcium influx into distinct cells in selected tissues by illuminatio, which renders calcium-based signalling processes accessible to regulation at will.