MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: What is the thermodeath point of a cell and why does it occur?

Date: Sun Mar 5 20:33:20 2000
Posted By: Erin Cram, Grad student, Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of CA, Berkeley
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 950708152.Bc

By thermodeath, do you mean heat shock?  In a multi-cellular organism, keeping a 
constant temperature is very important.  Each organism has an optimal operating 
temperature, and too much deviation from that temperature can result in death.  
For example, human body temp is around 36 degrees Celcius.  Heating up to 42 
(very high fever) can cause death. 

Now, why does a cell die when the temperature is too far away from optimal?  
Inside cells are proteins called enzymes. Enzymes do the work of the cell.  They 
metabolize food, send around signals in the cell, and even transport proteins 
from place to place in the cell.  When proteins get too 
hot, they start to unfold.  Unfolded proteins do not work as enzymes , and the 
cell can not function. (Imagine a small machine made out of wax, that works fine 
until the temperature gets too warm)  What is worse, unfolded proteins are VERY 
STICKY.  They tend to glob together,or precipitate, which is very bad for the 
cell.  (Imagine swallowing a lot of chewing gum)

Hope that helps!

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