The cell membrane is the interface where the cell meets the outside world. Many essential biological processes (such as cell adhesion, endo- and exo-cytosis, and membrane fusion) involve either direct or protein-mediated adhesion of this membrane to another membrane, food, or another substance in the environment. Indeed, for many normative eukaryotic cells, adhesion to a substrate is essential for viability; corresponding cells that lack this requirement are often cancerous.
Recent research has shown that when model membranes adhere this can suppress thermally-driven spatial fluctuations and thus trigger the formation of heterogeneities at the adhesion site. Such heterogeneities are associated with signaling and other processes that allow the cell to engage with its environment in the appropriate manner.