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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the basic structure of a typical prokaryote
  • Describe important differences in structure between Archaea and Bacteria

There are many differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. However, all cells have four common structures: the plasma membrane, which functions as a barrier for the cell and separates the cell from its environment; the cytoplasm, a jelly-like substance inside the cell; nucleic acids, the genetic material of the cell; and ribosomes, where protein synthesis takes place. Prokaryotes come in various shapes, but many fall into three categories: cocci (spherical), bacilli (rod-shaped), and spirilli (spiral-shaped) ( [link] ).

Part a: The micrograph shows ball-shaped cocci about 0.9 microns long. Part b: The micrograph shows hotdog-shaped bacilli about 2 microns long. Part c: The micrograph shows corkscrew-shaped spirilli that are quite long and 2 microns in diameter.
Prokaryotes fall into three basic categories based on their shape, visualized here using scanning electron microscopy: (a) cocci, or spherical (a pair is shown); (b) bacilli, or rod-shaped; and (c) spirilli, or spiral-shaped. (credit a: modification of work by Janice Haney Carr, Dr. Richard Facklam, CDC; credit c: modification of work by Dr. David Cox; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The prokaryotic cell

Recall that prokaryotes ( [link] ) are unicellular organisms that lack organelles or other internal membrane-bound structures. Therefore, they do not have a nucleus but instead generally have a single chromosome—a piece of circular, double-stranded DNA located in an area of the cell called the nucleoid. Most prokaryotes have a cell wall outside the plasma membrane.

In this illustration, the prokaryotic cell is rod shaped. The circular chromosome is concentrated in a region called the nucleoid. The fluid inside the cell is called the cytoplasm. Ribosomes, depicted as small circles, float in the cytoplasm. The cytoplasm is encased by a plasma membrane, which in turn is encased by a cell wall. A capsule surrounds the cell wall. The bacterium depicted has a flagellum protruding from one narrow end. Pili are small protrusions that project from the capsule all over the bacterium, like hair.
The features of a typical prokaryotic cell are shown.

Recall that prokaryotes are divided into two different domains, Bacteria and Archaea, which together with Eukarya, comprise the three domains of life ( [link] ).

 The trunk of the phylogenetic tree is a universal ancestor. The tree forms two branches. One branch leads to the domain bacteria, which includes the phyla proteobacteria, chlamydias, spirochetes, cyanobacteria, and Gram-positive bacteria. The other branch branches again, into the eukarya and archaea domains. Domain archaea includes the phyla euryarchaeotes, crenarchaeotes, nanoarchaeotes, and korarchaeotea.
Bacteria and Archaea are both prokaryotes but differ enough to be placed in separate domains. An ancestor of modern Archaea is believed to have given rise to Eukarya, the third domain of life. Archaeal and bacterial phyla are shown; the evolutionary relationship between these phyla is still open to debate.

The composition of the cell wall differs significantly between the domains Bacteria and Archaea. The composition of their cell walls also differs from the eukaryotic cell walls found in plants (cellulose) or fungi and insects (chitin). The cell wall functions as a protective layer, and it is responsible for the organism’s shape. Some bacteria have an outer capsule    outside the cell wall. Other structures are present in some prokaryotic species, but not in others ( [link] ). For example, the capsule found in some species enables the organism to attach to surfaces, protects it from dehydration and attack by phagocytic cells, and makes pathogens more resistant to our immune responses. Some species also have flagella (singular, flagellum) used for locomotion, and pili (singular, pilus) used for attachment to surfaces. Plasmids, which consist of extra-chromosomal DNA, are also present in many species of bacteria and archaea.

Characteristics of phyla of Bacteria are described in [link] and [link] ; Archaea are described in [link] .

Characteristics of the five phyla of bacteria are described. The first phylum described is proteobacteria, which includes five classes, alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon. Most species of Alpha Proteobacteria are photoautotrophic but some are symbionts of plants and animals, and others are pathogens. Eukaryotic mitochondria are thought be derived from bacteria in this group. Representative species include Rhizobium, a nitrogen-fixing endosymbiont associated with the roots of legumes, and Rickettsia, obligate intracellular parasite that causes typhus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (but not rickets, which is caused by Vitamin C deficiency). A micrograph shows rod-shaped Rickettsia rickettsii inside a much larger eukaryotic cell. Beta Proteobacteria is a diverse group of bacteria. Some species play an important role in the nitrogen cycle. Representative species include Nitrosomas, which oxidize ammonia into nitrate, and Spirillum minus, which causes rat bite fever. A micrograph of spiral-shaped Spirillum minus is shown. Gamma Proteobacteria include many are beneficial symbionts that populate the human gut, as well as familiar human pathogens. Some species from this subgroup oxidize sulfur compounds. Representative species include Escherichia coli, normally beneficial microbe of the human gut, but some strains cause disease; Salmonella, certain strains of which cause food poisoning, and typhoid fever; Yersinia pestis–the causative agent of  Bubonic plague; Psuedomonas aeruganosa– causes lung infections; Vibrio cholera, the causative agent of cholera, and Chromatium–sulfur producing bacteria bacteria that oxidize sulfur, producing H2S. Micrograph shows rod-shaped Vibrio cholera, which are about 1 micron long. Some species of delta Proteobacteria generate a spore-forming fruiting body in adverse conditions. Others reduce sulfate and sulfur. Representative species include Myxobacteria, which generate spore-forming fruiting bodies in adverse conditions and Desulfovibrio vulgaris, an aneorobic, sulfur-reducing bacterium. Micrograph shows a bent rod-shaped Desulfovibrio vulgaris bacterium with a long flagellum. Epsilon Proteobacteria includes many species that inhabit the digestive tract of animals as symbionts or pathogens. Bacteria from this group have been found in deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seep habitats. The next phylum described is chlamydias. All members of this group are obligate intracellular parasites of animal cells. Cells walls lack peptidoglycan. Micrograph shows a pap smear of cells infected with Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease and can lead to blindness. All members of the phylum Spirochetes have spiral-shaped cells. Most are free-living anaerobes, but some are pathogenic. Flagella run lengthwise in the periplasmic space between the inner and outer membrane. Representative species include Treponema pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis and Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease Micrograph shows corkscrew-shaped Trepanema pallidum, about 1 micron across. Bacteria in the phylum Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, obtain their energy through photosynthesis. They are ubiquitous, found in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments. Eukaryotic chloroplasts are thought be derived from bacteria in this group.  The cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus is believed to be the most abundant photosynthetic organism on earth, responsible for generating half the world’s oxygen. Micrograph shows a long, thin rod-shaped species called Phormidium. Gram-positive Bacteria have a thick cell wall and lack an outer membrane. Soil-dwelling members of this subgroup decompose organic matter. Some species cause disease. Representative species include Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax; Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism; Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhea during antibiotic therapy; Streptomyces, from which many antibiotics, including streptomyocin, are derived; and Mycoplasmas, the smallest known bacteria, which lack a cell wall. Some are free-living, and some are pathogenic. Micrograph shows Clostridium difficile, which are rod-shaped and about 3 microns long.
Phylum Proteobacteria is one of up to 52 bacteria phyla. Proteobacteria is further subdivided into five classes, Alpha through Epsilon. (credit “Rickettsia rickettsia”: modification of work by CDC; credit “Spirillum minus”: modification of work by Wolframm Adlassnig; credit “Vibrio cholera”: modification of work by Janice Haney Carr, CDC; credit “Desulfovibrio vulgaris”: modification of work by Graham Bradley; credit “Campylobacter”: modification of work by De Wood, Pooley, USDA, ARS, EMU; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Questions & Answers

what is biology
PEACE Reply
what is biology
Ysabella Reply
biology is a study of living things
PEACE
Biology is a diverse branch of science that deals with mostly living things
Emmanuel
yes
Swapnil
What happen when inhibit the transcription?
Swapnil
what is the effect of not doing sexual intercourse
SUZAN Reply
what is the mechanism of cellular respiration
Rita Reply
what is enzyme
garry Reply
They are organic catalysts that alter the rate of chemical reactions in the body.
Iyadi
what is a cell
Praize Reply
what is biology
Mordi Reply
biology is the study of living organisms and their interactions with one another and their environments
Ysabella
which of the following event does not occur during some stages of interface?
Bangha Reply
What is microfilaments
KHalid Reply
What is multicellular organisms
Ovie Reply
these are organisms with more than two cells
Bangha
the process when a male toad fertilizer a female eggs is called what?
Ahrebe Reply
Fertilization
Gyamfi
how did unicellular organisms form plants and animals or is it that different unicellular organisms formed plants and animald
YXNG Reply
yes
James
thanks
YXNG
name the components of faeces
Damali
undigested carbohydrate, fibre
Sandra
what are unicellular organisms..?
Sackson
they have only one cell
Sandra
faeces contains many undigested food materials, after the food has been digested then it will be absorbed in the blood stream for assimilation.,......... but the remains toxic materials are stored in the rectum these toxic materials are the faeces and it contains bile salts, the polysaccharides .
James
nice.
Sandra
thanks
James
unicellular organisms are the ones with only single cell.
James
thanks for your answers guys.
Sackson
Ok
Richard
what is class bryophyta
Emefa Reply
how many stages do we have in glycolysis?
Damali
10 stages
Elisha
the presence of a membrane enclosed nuclosed is a characteristics of what
Addai Reply
eukaryotic cell
captain
hetreothalism in fungi
Lekhram Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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