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Chapter One: Cell Structure and Organisation

Learning Outcomes
a. Describe and interpret drawings and photographs of typical animal and plant cells,
recognising the following membrane systems and organelles e.g; rough and smooth
endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, mitochondria, ribosomes, lysosomes,
chloroplasts, plasma/cell surface membrane, nuclear envelope, centrioles, nucleus and
b. Outline the functions of the membrane systems and organelles listed in (a);
c. Compare and contrast the structure of typical animal and plant cells;
d. Describe the structure of a prokaryotic cell and compare and contrast the structure of
prokaryotic cells with eukaryotic cells;



A cell is the smallest unit that can carry on all of the process of life. By using microscopes,
naturalists in the 17
century were able to study objects too small to be seen with the naked


Using an early light microscope, English scientist Robert Hooke looked at a thin slice of cork
from the bark of a cork oak tree in 1665. He described a great many little boxes that reminded
him of the cells where monks live.


A Dutch trader named Anton van Leeuwenhoek made microscopes that had 10 times the
magnification of Hookes instruments. In 1673, he was able to observe living cells of algae and


It was not until about 150 years later than biologists began to organize information about cells
more completely. The observations of botanist Matthias Schleiden, zoologist Theodor
Schwann, and physician Rudolf Virchow were combined to form the cell theory, a basic theory
about how cells are related to life.

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Developments in Cell Biology

After the initial formation of the cell theory, scientists began to further investigate how cells
function. In 1827, Karl Von Baer discovered the mammalian egg and in 1855, Rudolf Virchow
added to the cell theory.

The Cellular Basis in Life

In addition to the seven characteristics mentioned in the last chapter, all living things share a
common history. All cells share characteristics.

The Cell Theory
All living organisms are composed of one or more cells.
Cells are the basic units of structure and function in an organism.
Cells come from only the reproduction of existing cells.



Cell Shape
The diversity in cell shapes reflects the different functions of cells. To perform its function
effectively, a cells shape has evolved to be either simple or complex.

Cell Size
The size of a cell is limited by its surface area to-volume ratio . When a cell grows, its volume
increases much faster than its surface area. If cells became too large, their surface area
wouldnt be able to allow materials to enter or leave the cell quickly enough to meet the cells


Plasma Membrane
The plasma membrane (cell membrane) is the cells outer boundary that acts as a barrier
between the inside and outside of a cell. All materials exit or enter through the plasma

The region of the cell that is in the plasma membrane that includes the fluid, cytoskeleton, and
all of the organelles excluding the nucleus is the cytoplasm. The cytosol is the part of the
cytoplasm that includes molecules and small particles.

Control Center

Cells carry information in the form of DNA for regulating their functions and reproducing
themselves. Some cells have a membrane-bound organelle that contains a cells DNA, called
the nucleus. It maintains its shape with the help of a protein skeleton called the nuclear matrix.
Below is the nucleus of a typical animal cell.

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Prokaryotes are organisms that lack a membrane bound nucleus and membrane-bound
organelles. Their genetic information is concentrated in a part of the cell called a nucleoid.

Organisms made up of one or more cells that have a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles
are called eukaryotes. Eukaryotic cells also have subcellular structures called organelles, which
are intracellular bodies that perform specific functions for the cell.


A colonial organism is a collection of genetically identical cells that live together in a connected

True Multicellularity
A group of similar cells and their products that carry out a specific function is a tissue. Groups
of tissues that perform a particular job in an organism are called organs. An organ system is a
group of organs that accomplish related tasks.



Membrane Lipids
The plasma membrane is made of phospholipids with their non-polar tails pointing inward and
their polar head pointing outward. The result is a double layer called a phospholipid bilayer.
The cell membranes of eukaryotes also contain lipids, called sterols, between the tails of the
phospholipids. They prevent the membrane from freezing at low temperatures and keep it firm.

Membrane Proteins
Plasma membranes often contain specific proteins embedded within the lipid
bilayer, called integral proteins . Proteins that extend across the plasma membrane and are
exposed to both the interior and exterior have the ability to detect environmental signals and
transmit them to the inside of the cell. Peripheral proteins lie on only one side of the
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membrane and are not embedded in it. Integral proteins exposed to the cells external
environment often have carbohydrates attached to them. They play important roles in
transporting molecules into the cell.

Fluid Mosaic Model
The fluid mosaic model states that the phospholipid bilayer behaves like a fluid more than a
solid. Because the lipids and proteins in the membrane can move laterally, the pattern
(mosaic) of the lipids/proteins in the cell membrane constantly changes.


The nucleus is filled with nucleoplasm, which a jelly-like substance holds the contents of the
nucleus and works much like a cells cytoplasm. The nucleus is home to a cells genetic
information, and protects it.
When a cell is not dividing, the DNA in the nucleus is in the form of a threadlike material called
chromatin. When a cell is about to divide, the chromatin condenses to form chromosomes,
structures in the nucleus made of DNA and protein. In the nucleus, DNA is transcribed into
RNA, which moves to the cytoplasm to carry out its function.

Nuclear Envelope
Surrounding the nucleus is a double membrane, the nuclear envelope. It is made of two
phospholipid bilayers. The surface of the nuclear envelope is covered with nuclear pores ,
which are protein-lined holes. They provide passageways fro materials to enter and leave the

Most nuclei contain at least one denser area, called the nucleolus. It is the site where DNA is
concentrated when in the process of making ribosomal RNA. Ribosomes are organelles made
of protein and RNA that direct protein synthesis in the cytoplasm.


Mitochondria are tiny organelles that transfer energy from organic molecules to ATP, which
powers most of the cells chemical reactions. The more active a cell is the more mitochondria it
has. Like a nucleus, a mitochondrion has an inner and outer phospholipid membrane. The
outer membrane separates the mitochondrion from the cytosol and the inner membrane
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contains proteins that carry out energy-harvesting chemical reactions. The inner membrane is
also known as cristae.

Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondria have their own DNA and can only reproduce by division.


Ribosomes are small, somewhat spherical organelles that build protein. They do not have a
membrane, and are composed of RNA molecules and protein. Their assembly begins in the
nucleolus and is completed in the cytoplasm. One large and one small subunit come together
to make a functioning ribosome.


The endoplasmic reticulum (ER), is a system of membranous tubes and sacs
(cisternae). Acting as a highway for molecules, the amount of ER inside a cell fluctuates
depending on the cells activity. There are both smooth and rough ER.

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum
The rough ER is a system of interconnected, flattened sacs covered with
ribosomes, which produces proteins and phospholipids. Certain types of proteins are produced
by the rough ERs ribosomes which later move out of the cell or into one of the cells
membranes. Rough ER is common in cells that produce large amount of proteins for export into
the body.

Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum
Smooth ER lacks ribosomes, which makes it appear smooth. Most cells have little smooth ER,
which builds lipids such as cholesterol. In skeletal and heart muscle cells, smooth ER releases
calcium. In liver and kidney cells, it detoxifies drugs and poisons.


The Golgi apparatus is another system of flattened, membranous sacs. The sacs nearest the
nucleus receive vesicles (small sacs surrounded by single membrane) from the ER containing
newly made proteins or lipids. These sacs travel from the different parts of the Golgi apparatus,
transporting substances. The Golgi apparatus membranes modify the contents of the different
vesicles and direct them to various parts of the cells.


Surrounded by a single membrane, vesicles are small, spherically shaped sacs that are
classified by their contents. They migrate to and merge with the plasma membrane, releasing
their contents to the outside of the cell.


Lysosomes are vesicles that bud from the Golgi apparatus and contain digestive enzymes. As
previously discussed, these enzymes can break down large molecules. Within a cell, lysosome
digests worn-out organelles. This process is called autophagy.
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They also break down cells when it is time for the cell to die. By destroying cells when they no
longer work properly, lysosomes help maintain an organisms health. The digestion of damaged
or extra cells by their own lysosomes is called autolysis .

Not produced by the Golgi apparatus, peroxisomes contain different enzymes than lysosomes.
They are abundant in liver and kidney cells, where they neutralize oxygen ions that can
damage cells and detoxify drugs. They can also break down fatty acids so mitochondria can
use them as an energy source.

Other Vesicles
Glyoxysomes are specialized peroxisomes which can be found in the seeds of some plants.
They break down stored fats to provide energy for the plant embryo. Some cells surround
material with a plasma membrane, which becomes a vesicle inside the cell called an
endosome. These act as food for lysosomes. Contractile vacuoles are vesicles that can
contract and get rid of extra water in a cell.

Protein Synthesis
One of a cells major jobs is to produce protein. Below you can see the path proteins take from
synthesis to export.


The cytoskeleton is a network of thin filaments and tubes that crisscrosses the cytosol. They
give shape to the cell from the inside, much like the way tent poles support a tents shape. It
also acts as a system of internal tracks, on which items move around in the cell. The
cytoskeletons functions are based on several structures, including microtubules,
microfilaments, and intermediate filaments.

Microtubules are hollow tubes made of a protein called tubulin. Each tubulin molecule is made
up of two slightly different subunits. Microtubules radiate outward from the centrosome, a
central point near the nucleus. Their job is to hold organelles in place, maintain a cells shape,
and guide the movement of organelles and molecules.

Long threads of actin (beadlike protein) linked end to end and wrapped around each other are
microfilaments. Finer than microtubules, they contribute to cell movement.

Intermediate Filaments
Intermediate filaments are rods that anchor the nucleus and some other organelles to their
designated spot in the cell. They maintain the internal shape of the nucleus. Large quantities of
intermediate filament proteins are produced by hair-follicle cells.

Cilia and Flagella
Cilia and flagella are hair-like structures that extend from the surface of the cell, and help the
cell move. Cilia are short and present in large numbers on certain cells, and flagella are longer,
appearing in less numerous quantities. Cilia and flagella have a membrane on their outer
surface and also have nine pairs of microtubules around two central tubules in their internal
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Cilia and cells in the inner ear vibrate and help detect sound. On protists, cilia can cover their
surface and move them through water. Cells also use flagella to propel themselves.

Centrioles consist of two shot cylinders of microtubules at right angles to each other, situated in
the cytoplasm near the nuclear envelope. These occur in animal cells, and organize the
microtubules of the cytoskeleton during cell division. Plant cells do not have centrioles, and
instead have basal bodies. Basal bodies organize the development of cilia and flagella.



Most of the parts of the cell previously discussed are common to all eukaryotic cells. However,
plant cells have additional kinds of structures important to plant function: cell walls, large
central vacuoles, and plastids.


The cell wall is a rigid layer that lies outside the cells plasma membrane. The carbohydrate
cellulose is embedded in proteins and other carbohydrates, forming a box around each cell.
Pores in the cell wall allow water, ions, and certain molecules to enter and exit the cell.

Primary and Secondary Cell Walls
Cellulose is made directly on the surface of the plasma membrane by enzymes traveling along
the membrane. These enzymes are directed by microtubules inside the plasma membrane.
Based on the orientation of the microtubules, the growth of the primary cell wall occurs in one
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In some plants, when the cell stops growing, it secrets the secondary cell wall between the
plasma membrane and the primary cell wall. The secondary cell wall can no longer expand.


A large, fluid-filled organelle that stores water, enzymes, metabolic wastes, and other materials
in a plant cell is the central vacuole. It forms as smaller vacuoles fuse together. The central
vacuole makes up 90 percent of the plan cells volume. When there is plenty of water, the
central vacuole expands and a plant stands upright, as opposed to where there is little water
and the central vacuole shrinks. Once it shrinks, the plant wilts.

Other Vacuoles
Some vacuoles store toxic materials as defense against plant-eating animals.
Others can store plant pigments.


Plastids are organelles that are surrounded by a double membrane and contain their own DNA.

Chloroplasts use light energy to make carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. Each one
contains a system of flattened, membranous sacs called thylakoids, containing the green
pigment chlorophyll.
Plant cell chloroplasts can arise only by division of preexisting chloroplasts, which may mean
that they are descendants of ancient prokaryotic cells that were incorporated into plant cells
through endosymbiosis .

Chromoplasts are plastids that contain colorful pigments that may or may not have a part in

Other Plastids
Several other types of plastids share the general features of chloroplasts but differ in content.
Amyloplasts store starch. Chloroplasts, chromoplasts, and
amyloplasts arise form a common precursor, called a proplastid.


All cells share common features such as a cell membrane, cytoplasm, ribosomes, and genetic
material. Even so, there is a high level of diversity among cells.

Prokaryotes Versus Eukaryotes
Prokaryotes lack a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Prokaryotes have a nucleoid,
where their genetic material is concentrated. However, prokaryotes lack an internal membrane

Plant Cells Versus Animal Cells
Plant cells have three distinguishing features from animal cells. They produce cell walls,
contain a large central vacuole, and contain a variety of plastids.