Plasma consists predominantly of water and salts. The kidneys carefully maintain the salt concentration in plasma because small changes in its concentration will cause cells in the body to function improperly. In extreme conditions this can result in seizures, coma, or even death. The pH of plasma, the common measurement of the plasma’s acidity, is also carefully controlled by the kidneys within the neutral range of 6.8 to 7.7. Plasma also contains other small molecules, including vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and waste products. The concentrations of all of these molecules must be carefully regulated.
Plasma is usually yellow in color due to proteins dissolved in it. However, after a person eats a fatty meal, that person’s plasma temporarily develops a milky color as the blood carries the ingested fats from the intestines to other organs of the body.
Plasma carries a large number of important proteins, including albumin, gamma globulin, and clotting factors. Albumin is the main protein in blood. It helps regulate the water content of tissues and blood. Gamma globulin is composed of tens of thousands of unique antibody molecules. Antibodies neutralize or help destroy infectious organisms. Each antibody is designed to target one specific invading organism. For example, chicken pox antibody will target chicken pox virus, but will leave an influenza virus unharmed. Clotting factors, such as fibrinogen, are involved in forming blood clots that seal leaks after an injury. Plasma that has had the clotting factors removed is called serum. Both serum and plasma are easy to store and have many medical uses.