Integral membrane proteins (IMPs): They're unquestionably important and notoriously elusive. Caltech biochemistry professor Bil Clemons is on a mission to take some of the guesswork out of how we study them.
Step 1: Define the problem
The cell membrane, just a few nanometers thick, is what separates the interior of a cell from the cell's environment. Integral membrane proteins, as their name suggests, are embedded in cell membranes. In contact with both the cell's interior and everything around the cell, IMPs are gatekeepers, transporters, and conduits of information, and they enable cells to communicate with each other.
Because of their complicated habitat—partway in the cell, partway out, and partly in the cell membrane—researchers find it extremely difficult to successfully extract IMPs for study.