The mechanism of absorption

  • R. N. Robertson
Part of the Handbuch der Pflanzenphysiologie / Encyclopedia of Plant Physiology book series (532, volume 2)


As has been seen in the preceding sections (IV A–G), living cells and tissues show a great capacity for absorbing a variety of substances from the surrounding medium. Large molecules, small molecules, electrolytes and nonelectrolytes can all be absorbed. Sometimes substances are absorbed by diffusion as long as there is a concentration difference between outside and inside; sometimes, as with ions, because an electrochemical potential difference has been established between inside and outside, ions can enter in exchange for other ions; sometimes a non-osmotic process of active transport, working against both concentration and electric gradients, results in internal concentrations greater than external. No single mechanism can account for the absorption processes which differ in different cells and for the different types of substances absorbed. Underlying these mechanisms is the highly complex and little understood structure of the cytoplasm. While we expect to find that the cytoplasm obeys physicochemical laws, the history of discussions on the mechanism of absorption shows that over-simplification of the physical system involved has led to erroneous hypotheses. The mechanism of absorption is one aspect of cell physiology and our knowledge advances hand in hand with our general knowledge of cell physiology. For example, though a few years ago the functions of mitochondria were almost unknown, we now know that no hypothesis of absorption mechanism can neglect these particles and their important physiological role.


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© Springer-Verlag OHG. Berlin · Göttingen · Heidelberg 1956

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  • R. N. Robertson

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