Hotani has filmed morphological transformations in unilamellar liposomes, starting from a spherical shape, when the interior volume decreases steadily. Hotani’s liposomes showed no evidence of general thermal fluctuations. We use a finite-deformation theory of axisymmetric, quasi-static thin shells to analyze theoretically bifurcations and changes of shape in liposomes under decreasing volume. The main structural action in a lipid bilayer is generally agreed to be its elastic resistance to bending, and it is usual to regard surface deformation as being like that of a two-dimensional liquid. We find, however, that some in-plane shear elasticity is also needed in order to produce the observed post-bifurcation behavior. Such an elasticity would be difficult to measure directly.

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