Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 277–345

Osmosis and solute—Solvent drag

Fluid transport and fluid exchange in animals and plants
Review Article

DOI: 10.1385/CBB:42:3:277

Cite this article as:
Hammel, H.T. & Schlegel, W.M. Cell Biochem Biophys (2005) 42: 277. doi:10.1385/CBB:42:3:277


In 1903, George Hulett explained how solute alters water in an aqueous solution to lower the vapor pressure of its water. Hulett also explained how the same altered water causes osmosis and osmotic pressure when the solution is separated from liquid water by a membrane permeable to the water only. Hulett recognized that the solute molecules diffuse toward all boundaries of the solution containing the solute. Solute diffusion is stopped at all boundaries, at an open-unopposed surface of the solution, at a semipermeable membrane, at a container wall, or at the boundary of a solid or gaseous inclusion surrounded by solution but not dissolved in it. At each boundary of the solution, the solute molecules are reflected, they change momentum, and the change of momentum of all reflected molecules is a pressure, a solute pressure (i.e., a force on a unit area of reflecting boundary). When a boundary of the solution is open and unopposed, the solute pressure alters the internal tension in the force bonding the water in its liquid phase, namely, the hydrogen bond. All altered properties of the water in the solution are explained by the altered internal tension of the water in the solution. We acclaim Hulett's explanation of osmosis, osmotic pressure, and lowering of the vapor pressure of water in an aqueous solution. His explanation is self-evident. It is the necessary, sufficient, and inescapable explanation of all altered properties of the water in the solution relative to the same property of pure liquid water at the same externally applied pressure and the same temperature. We extend Hulett's explanation of osmosis to included the osmotic effects of solute diffusing through solvent and dragging on the solvent through which it diffuses. Therein lies the explanations of (1) the extravasation from and return of interstitial fluid to capillaries, (2) the return of luminal fluid in the proximal and distal convoluted tubules of a kidney nephron to their peritubular capillaries, (3) the return of interstitial fluid to the vasa recta, (4) return of aqueous humor to the episcleral veins, and (5) flow of phloem from source to sink in higher plants and many more examples of fluid transport and fluid exchange in animal and plant physiology. When a membrane is permeable to water only and when it separates differing aqueous solutions, the flow of water is from the solution with the lower osmotic pressure to the solution with the higher osmotic pressure. On the contrary, when no diffusion barrier separates differing parts of an aqueous solution, fluid may flow from the part with the higher osmotic pressure to the part with the lower osmotic pressure because the solute molecules diffuse toward their lower concentration and they drag on the water through which they diffuse. This latter osmotic effect (diffusing solute dragging on solvent or counterosmosis) between differing parts of a solution has long been neglected and ignored when explaining fluid fluxes in plant and animal physiology. For two solutions separated by a semipermeable membrane, osmosis is the flow of its solvent from the solution with the lower solute concentration into the solution with the higher solute concentration. For two contiguous solutions not separated by a semipermeable membrane, counterosmosis is the flow of solution with the higher solute concentration toward the solution with the lower solute concentration. Corrective treatment of medical disorders attributable to faulty distribution of body fluids (e.g., glaucoma, pulmonary edema, systemic edema) are possible with these new insights regarding fluid transport and exchange provided in this review.

Index Entries

OsmosisHulett's theorysolute—solvent dragcounterosmosisfluid transportfluid exchangeintraocular pressure (IOP)glaucomaSoret effectpulmonary edemacongestive heart failurewater potentialphloem transportguttationsoil water transport

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Medical SciencesIndiana University School of MedicineBloomington
  2. 2.Department of Biology, College of Arts and SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomington