Fractal avalanche ruptures in biological membranes
Journal article, 2010
Bilayer membranes envelope cells as well as organelles, and constitute the most ubiquitous biological material found in all branches of the phylogenetic tree. Cell membrane rupture is an important biological process, and substantial rupture rates are found in skeletal and cardiac muscle cells under a mechanical load(1). Rupture can also be induced by processes such as cell death(2), and active cell membrane repair mechanisms are essential to preserve cell integrity(3). Pore formation in cell membranes is also at the heart of many biomedical applications such as in drug, gene and short interfering RNA delivery(4). Membrane rupture dynamics has been studied in bilayer vesicles under tensile stress(5-8), which consistently produce circular pores(5,6). We observed very different rupture mechanics in bilayer membranes spreading on solid supports: in one instance fingering instabilities were seen resulting in floral-like pores and in another, the rupture proceeded in a series of rapid avalanches causing fractal membrane fragmentation. The intermittent character of rupture evolution and the broad distribution in avalanche sizes is consistent with crackling-noise dynamics(9). Such noisy dynamics appear in fracture of solid disordered materials(10), in dislocation avalanches in plastic deformations(11) and domain wall magnetization avalanches(12). We also observed similar fractal rupture mechanics in spreading cell membranes.