At this point, it should be clear that eukaryotic cells have a more complex structure than do prokaryotic cells. Organelles allow for various functions to occur in the cell at the same time. Before discussing the functions of organelles within a eukaryotic cell, let us first examine two important components of the cell: the plasma membrane and the cytoplasm.
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Figure 1: (b) a typical plant cell.
What structures does a plant cell have that an animal cell does not have?What structures does an animal cell have that a plant cell does not have?
Plant cells have plasmodesmata, a cell wall, a large central vacuole, chloroplasts, and plastids. Animal cells have lysosomes and centrosomes.
The Plasma Membrane
Like prokaryotes, eukaryotic cells have a plasma membrane (
Figure 3: Microfilaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules compose a cell’s cytoskeleton.
Microfilaments are the thinnest of the cytoskeletal fibers and function in moving cellular components, for example, during cell division. They also maintain the structure of microvilli, the extensive folding of the plasma membrane found in cells dedicated to absorption. These components are also common in muscle cells and are responsible for muscle cell contraction. Intermediate filaments are of intermediate diameter and have structural functions, such as maintaining the shape of the cell and anchoring organelles. Keratin, the compound that strengthens hair and nails, forms one type of intermediate filament. Microtubules are the thickest of the cytoskeletal fibers. These are hollow tubes that can dissolve and reform quickly. Microtubules guide organelle movement and are the structures that pull chromosomes to their poles during cell division. They are also the structural components of flagella and cilia. In cilia and flagella, the microtubules are organized as a circle of nine double microtubules on the outside and two microtubules in the center.
The centrosome is a region near the nucleus of animal cells that functions as a microtubule-organizing center. It contains a pair of centrioles, two structures that lie perpendicular to each other. Each centriole is a cylinder of nine triplets of microtubules.
The centrosome replicates itself before a cell divides, and the centrioles play a role in pulling the duplicated chromosomes to opposite ends of the dividing cell. However, the exact function of the centrioles in cell division is not clear, since cells that have the centrioles removed can still divide, and plant cells, which lack centrioles, are capable of cell division.
Flagella and Cilia
Flagella (singular = flagellum) are long, hair-like structures that extend from the plasma membrane and are used to move an entire cell, (for example, sperm, Euglena). When present, the cell has just one flagellum or a few flagella. When cilia (singular = cilium) are present, however, they are many in number and extend along the entire surface of the plasma membrane. They are short, hair-like structures that are used to move entire cells (such as paramecium) or move substances along the outer surface of the cell (for example, the cilia of cells lining the fallopian tubes that move the ovum toward the uterus, or cilia lining the cells of the respiratory tract that move particulate matter toward the throat that mucus has trapped).The Endomembrane System
The endomembrane system (endo = within) is a group of membranes and organelles (
Typically, the nucleus is the most prominent organelle in a cell (
Figure 6: The Golgi apparatus in this transmission electron micrograph of a white blood cell is visible as a stack of semicircular flattened rings in the lower portion of this image. Several vesicles can be seen near the Golgi apparatus. (credit: modification of work by Louisa Howard; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)
The Golgi apparatus has a receiving face near the endoplasmic reticulum and a releasing face on the side away from the ER, toward the cell membrane. The transport vesicles that form from the ER travel to the receiving face, fuse with it, and empty their contents into the lumen of the Golgi apparatus. As the proteins and lipids travel through the Golgi, they undergo further modifications. The most frequent modification is the addition of short chains of sugar molecules. The newly modified proteins and lipids are then tagged with small molecular groups to enable them to be routed to their proper destinations.
Finally, the modified and tagged proteins are packaged into vesicles that bud from the opposite face of the Golgi. While some of these vesicles, transport vesicles, deposit their contents into other parts of the cell where they will be used, others, secretory vesicles, fuse with the plasma membrane and release their contents outside the cell.
The amount of Golgi in different cell types again illustrates that form follows function within cells. Cells that engage in a great deal of secretory activity (such as cells of the salivary glands that secrete digestive enzymes or cells of the immune system that secrete antibodies) have an abundant number of Golgi.
In plant cells, the Golgi has an additional role of synthesizing polysaccharides, some of which are incorporated into the cell wall and some of which are used in other parts of the cell.
Ribosomes are the cellular structures responsible for protein synthesis. When viewed through an electron microscope, free ribosomes appear as either clusters or single tiny dots floating freely in the cytoplasm. Ribosomes may be attached to either the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane or the cytoplasmic side of the endoplasmic reticulum (
Because protein synthesis is essential for all cells, ribosomes are found in practically every cell, although they are smaller in prokaryotic cells. They are particularly abundant in immature red blood cells for the synthesis of hemoglobin, which functions in the transport of oxygen throughout the body.Mitochondria
Mitochondria (singular = mitochondrion) are often called the “powerhouses” or “energy factories” of a cell because they are responsible for making adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s main energy-carrying molecule. The formation of ATP from the breakdown of glucose is known as cellular respiration. Mitochondria are oval-shaped, double-membrane organelles (Figure 8>) that have their own ribosomes and DNA. Each membrane is a phospholipid bilayer embedded with proteins. The inner layer has folds called cristae, which increase the surface area of the inner membrane. The area surrounded by the folds is called the mitochondrial matrix. The cristae and the matrix have different roles in cellular respiration.
In keeping with our theme of form following function, it is important to point out that muscle cells have a very high concentration of mitochondria because muscle cells need a lot of energy to contract.
Figure 9: This simplified diagram of a chloroplast shows the outer membrane, inner membrane, thylakoids, grana, and stroma.
The chloroplasts contain a green pigment called chlorophyll, which captures the energy of sunlight for photosynthesis. Like plant cells, photosynthetic protists also have chloroplasts. Some bacteria also perform photosynthesis, but they do not have chloroplasts. Their photosynthetic pigments are located in the thylakoid membrane within the cell itself.
KEvolution in Action
We have mentioned that both mitochondria and chloroplasts contain DNA and ribosomes. Have you wondered why? Strong evidence points to endosymbiosis as the explanation.
Symbiosis is a relationship in which organisms from two separate species live in close association and typically exhibit specific adaptations to each other. Endosymbiosis (endo-= within) is a relationship in which one organism lives inside the other. Endosymbiotic relationships abound in nature. Microbes that produce vitamin K live inside the human gut. This relationship is beneficial for us because we are unable to synthesize vitamin K. It is also beneficial for the microbes because they are protected from other organisms and are provided a stable habitat and abundant food by living within the large intestine.
Scientists have long noticed that bacteria, mitochondria, and chloroplasts are similar in size. We also know that mitochondria and chloroplasts have DNA and ribosomes, just as bacteria do. Scientists believe that host cells and bacteria formed a mutually beneficial endosymbiotic relationship when the host cells ingested aerobic bacteria and cyanobacteria but did not destroy them. Through evolution, these ingested bacteria became more specialized in their functions, with the aerobic bacteria becoming mitochondria and the photosynthetic bacteria becoming chloroplasts.
The Central Vacuole
Previously, we mentioned vacuoles as essential components of plant cells. If you look atExtracellular Matrix of Animal Cells
Most animal cells release materials into the extracellular space. The primary components of these materials are glycoproteins and the protein collagen. Collectively, these materials are called the extracellular matrix (
Figure 11: There are four kinds of connections between cells. (a) A plasmodesma is a channel between the cell walls of two adjacent plant cells. (b) Tight junctions join adjacent animal cells. (c) Desmosomes join two animal cells together. (d) Gap junctions act as channels between animal cells. (credit b, c, d: modification of work by Mariana Ruiz Villareal)
A tight junction is a watertight seal between two adjacent animal cells (
Also found only in animal cells are desmosomes, which act like spot welds between adjacent epithelial cells (
Gap junctions in animal cells are like plasmodesmata in plant cells in that they are channels between adjacent cells that allow for the transport of ions, nutrients, and other substances that enable cells to communicate (
|Plasma membrane||Separates cell from external environment; controls passage of organic molecules, ions, water, oxygen, and wastes into and out of the cell||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Cytoplasm||Provides structure to cell; site of many metabolic reactions; medium in which organelles are found||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Nucleoid||Location of DNA||Yes||No||No|
|Nucleus||Cell organelle that houses DNA and directs synthesis of ribosomes and proteins||No||Yes||Yes|
|Mitochondria||ATP production/cellular respiration||No||Yes||Yes|
|Peroxisomes||Oxidizes and breaks down fatty acids and amino acids, and detoxifies poisons||No||Yes||Yes|
|Vesicles and vacuoles||Storage and transport; digestive function in plant cells||No||Yes||Yes|
|Centrosome||Unspecified role in cell division in animal cells; organizing center of microtubules in animal cells||No||Yes||No|
|Lysosomes||Digestion of macromolecules; recycling of worn-out organelles||No||Yes||No|
|Cell wall||Protection, structural support and maintenance of cell shape||Yes, primarily peptidoglycan in bacteria but not Archaea||No||Yes, primarily cellulose|
|Endoplasmic reticulum||Modifies proteins and synthesizes lipids||No||Yes||Yes|
|Golgi apparatus||Modifies, sorts, tags, packages, and distributes lipids and proteins||No||Yes||Yes|
|Cytoskeleton||Maintains cell’s shape, secures organelles in specific positions, allows cytoplasm and vesicles to move within the cell, and enables unicellular organisms to move independently||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Flagella||Cellular locomotion||Some||Some||No, except for some plant sperm.|
|Cilia||Cellular locomotion, movement of particles along extracellular surface of plasma membrane, and filtration||No||Some||No|
This table provides the components of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and their respective functions.Section Summary
Like a prokaryotic cell, a eukaryotic cell has a plasma membrane, cytoplasm, and ribosomes, but a eukaryotic cell is typically larger than a prokaryotic cell, has a true nucleus (meaning its DNA is surrounded by a membrane), and has other membrane-bound organelles that allow for compartmentalization of functions. The plasma membrane is a phospholipid bilayer embedded with proteins. The nucleolus within the nucleus is the site for ribosome assembly. Ribosomes are found in the cytoplasm or are attached to the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane or endoplasmic reticulum. They perform protein synthesis. Mitochondria perform cellular respiration and produce ATP. Peroxisomes break down fatty acids, amino acids, and some toxins. Vesicles and vacuoles are storage and transport compartments. In plant cells, vacuoles also help break down macromolecules.
Animal cells also have a centrosome and lysosomes. The centrosome has two bodies, the centrioles, with an unknown role in cell division. Lysosomes are the digestive organelles of animal cells.
Plant cells have a cell wall, chloroplasts, and a central vacuole. The plant cell wall, whose primary component is cellulose, protects the cell, provides structural support, and gives shape to the cell. Photosynthesis takes place in chloroplasts. The central vacuole expands, enlarging the cell without the need to produce more cytoplasm.
The endomembrane system includes the nuclear envelope, the endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, lysosomes, vesicles, as well as the plasma membrane. These cellular components work together to modify, package, tag, and transport membrane lipids and proteins.
The cytoskeleton has three different types of protein elements. Microfilaments provide rigidity and shape to the cell, and facilitate cellular movements. Intermediate filaments bear tension and anchor the nucleus and other organelles in place. Microtubules help the cell resist compression, serve as tracks for motor proteins that move vesicles through the cell, and pull replicated chromosomes to opposite ends of a dividing cell. They are also the structural elements of centrioles, flagella, and cilia.
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Animal cells communicate through their extracellular matrices and are connected to each other by tight junctions, desmosomes, and gap junctions. Plant cells are connected and communicate with each other by plasmodesmata.