The cell membrane is vulnerable to attack from various external toxins and environmental threats. The ability to damage membranes of target cells has evolved across biology as a way to procure food and defend against disease or attack from other species. The membrane disruption is mostly carried out by proteins, and, although they originate from across the full spectrum of biological diversity, they share common mechanisms at the molecular level. This chapter uses specific examples to show how the secondary structure of proteins determines the various modes of action and how, starting from simple physicochemical interactions, specific molecular recognition has arisen to increase the effectiveness of the toxins.
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