Carlos M. Marques: Lipids and light: the fourth pillar of life under a microscope


Carlos M. Marques


ENS - Lyon, Chemistry Laboratory

CNRS - UMR 5182

46, allée d'Italie      

69364 Lyon Cedex 07




Amphi Sciences de la Matière, site Monod

From the standard point-of-view of biology, lipids are the dullest and the less interesting molecules amongst the four pillars of life: no well-defined molecular structure that would unveil directly the secrets of biological function like DNA and proteins, no high specificity like carbohydrates. Ole Mouritsen, in his book Life as a matter of fat, recalls as a teaser that lipids are considered as “ … a structureless fatty material which is at best organized in a membrane structure that plays the role of a passive container of the cell and a solvent or container for the other important molecules of life.” Briefly, “lipids grease the functional machinery of the cells, controlled and run by proteins and DNA”.

Since “there is a crack in everything, that is how light gets in”, we will meander in this seminar through the wide-open rifts of that standard view, exploring the unique properties of lipid self-assembly, phase behavior and functionality. Guided by what one can learn under an optical microscope about lipid structure and organization, we will micromanipulate lipid membranes subjected to photo-induced chemical reactions and phase transformations. Emerging from our meanderings, we will show why and how the modern science of lipids not only triggers many fundamental endeavors in biology, chemistry and physics, but also contributes to important technological progress in different areas and enlightens debates that permeate through present human societies.