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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Name examples of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms
  • Compare and contrast prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells
  • Describe the relative sizes of different kinds of cells

Cells fall into one of two broad categories: prokaryotic and eukaryotic. The predominantly single-celled organisms of the domains Bacteria and Archaea are classified as prokaryotes ( pro - = before; - karyon - = nucleus). Animal cells, plant cells, fungi, and protists are eukaryotes ( eu - = true).

Components of prokaryotic cells

All cells share four common components: 1) a plasma membrane, an outer covering that separates the cell’s interior from its surrounding environment; 2) cytoplasm, consisting of a jelly-like region within the cell in which other cellular components are found; 3) DNA, the genetic material of the cell; and 4) ribosomes, particles that synthesize proteins. However, prokaryotes differ from eukaryotic cells in several ways.

A prokaryotic cell    is a simple, single-celled (unicellular) organism that lacks a nucleus, or any other membrane-bound organelle. We will shortly come to see that this is significantly different in eukaryotes. Prokaryotic DNA is found in the central part of the cell: a darkened region called the nucleoid ( [link] ).

In this illustration, the prokaryotic cell has an oval shape. 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 in 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 extend from the capsule in all directions.
This figure shows the generalized structure of a prokaryotic cell.

Unlike Archaea and eukaryotes, bacteria have a cell wall made of peptidoglycan, comprised of sugars and amino acids, and many have a polysaccharide capsule ( [link] ). The cell wall acts as an extra layer of protection, helps the cell maintain its shape, and prevents dehydration. The capsule enables the cell to attach to surfaces in its environment. Some prokaryotes have flagella, pili, or fimbriae. Flagella are used for locomotion, while most pili are used to exchange genetic material during a type of reproduction called conjugation.

Eukaryotic cells

In nature, the relationship between form and function is apparent at all levels, including the level of the cell, and this will become clear as we explore eukaryotic cells. The principle “form follows function” is found in many contexts. For example, birds and fish have streamlined bodies that allow them to move quickly through the medium in which they live, be it air or water. It means that, in general, one can deduce the function of a structure by looking at its form, because the two are matched.

A eukaryotic cell    is a cell that has a membrane-bound nucleus and other membrane-bound compartments or sacs, called organelles , which have specialized functions. The word eukaryotic means “true kernel” or “true nucleus,” alluding to the presence of the membrane-bound nucleus in these cells. The word “organelle” means “little organ,” and, as already mentioned, organelles have specialized cellular functions, just as the organs of your body have specialized functions.

Cell size

At 0.1–5.0 µm in diameter, prokaryotic cells are significantly smaller than eukaryotic cells, which have diameters ranging from 10–100 µm ( [link] ). The small size of prokaryotes allows ions and organic molecules that enter them to quickly spread to other parts of the cell. Similarly, any wastes produced within a prokaryotic cell can quickly move out. However, larger eukaryotic cells have evolved different structural adaptations to enhance cellular transport. Indeed, the large size of these cells would not be possible without these adaptations. In general, cell size is limited because volume increases much more quickly than does cell surface area. As a cell becomes larger, it becomes more and more difficult for the cell to acquire sufficient materials to support the processes inside the cell, because the relative size of the surface area across which materials must be transported declines.

Relative sizes on a logarithmic scale, from 0.1 nm to 1 m, are shown. Objects are shown from smallest to largest. The smallest object shown, an atom, is about 1 nm in size. The next largest objects shown are lipids and proteins; these molecules are between 1 and 10 nm. Bacteria are about 100 nm, and mitochondria are about 1 µm. Plant and animal cells are both between 10 and 100 µm. A human egg is between 100 µm and 1 mm. A frog egg is about 1 mm, a chicken egg and an ostrich egg are both between 10 and 100 mm, but a chicken egg is larger. For comparison, a human is approximately 1 m tall.
This figure shows the relative sizes of different kinds of cells and cellular components. An adult human is shown for comparison.

Section summary

Prokaryotes are predominantly single-celled organisms of the domains Bacteria and Archaea. All prokaryotes have plasma membranes, cytoplasm, ribosomes, a cell wall, DNA, and lack membrane-bound organelles. Many also have polysaccharide capsules. Prokaryotic cells range in diameter from 0.1–5.0 µm.

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. Eukaryotic cells tend to be 10 to 100 times the size of prokaryotic cells.

Questions & Answers

why too much insulin result in low blood sugar
Leri Reply
difference between DNA and RNA
Eyitayo Reply
DNA is deoxyribonuclaic acid. Deoxy refers to a lack of oxygen. The Ribose moity is missing an OH group. I think it is missing from the second C of the ring. RNA is ribonucleic acid. DNA has our genetic code in on it. RNA is translated from DNA and carries the blue print for protein synthesis.
The OH group on RNA prevents it from being reactive. But it is very unstable though. Would you want such a power tool floating around in your body, no. And you have three types of RNA: mRNA, tRNA and rRNA. Please let me know it this helped?😄
what determines the aeration level in the soil
Shola Reply
what is homeostasis?
Sarita Reply
What is biology
Don Reply
Biology z the study of life
what's biology
biology is the study of living nd none living organism
Biology is the study of life
yes Sir
what's cell biology
biology is the study of life
what is asexual reproduction,?
Awoi Reply
A type of reproduction which does not involve the fusion of gametes or a change in the number of chromosomes
Reproduction without sex... In which form a single organism or cell makes a copy of itself.
Please explain the concept of mitosis and meiosis
I guess you could use it for study buddies and brushing up on what you need to
what is mitosis
Asexual reproduction?
why pepsin and trypsin released in active form?
mitosis is the type cell division in which two daughter cells have same no. of chormosomes
chromosome number remains the same in mitosis
Yrr help me.
Physical chemistry..... Koi h jo mujhe physical chem ki notes send kr ske
what is asexual reproduction
what makes golgi body in plants
Abdulkareem Reply
name the membrane of the plants
how can turners syndrome be corrected before birth
which animal survive from being preyed just because of being humble, slow, and not aggressive
Plants have golgi body's also. Plants are eukaryotic cells. And membrane bound organelles are a characteristic of eukaryotic cells. Moreover golgi body's are creatted from the ER. Also do not forget plants have plastids and animal cells do not.
During organs transplantation, the organs cannot be taken from just anybody since the graft would be rejected sooner or later due to
Liter Reply
Non-MHC compatibility on the organ and an attack from the patient's immune system.
what makes golgi body in plants
why trypsin and pepsin released in active form
Let us remember MHC'S on our cells. This is how our cells determine self from n o n s e l f. Transplanted tissue has to have a certain amount markers. These have to match to the recipiant's markers. Even with this, immunosuppresant medacine is prescribed to the recipient.
Even with these measures the body may still reject the transport. This can occur even after the recipient excepting the transport for some time.
what is integument system
Joy Reply
This system is our skin. This includes the skin lining our alimentary system which includes the tissue from our mouth to our anus. Our skin is our largest organ system. It is mostly made up of epithelial tissue.
Cellular respiration
Lucy Reply
This is how our cells make energy. They use glucose + oxygen. There are other facors involves also. But these are the main two reactant used, for aerobic respiration. The main product is ATP. ATP is a high energy molecule which is paramount for life.
what are the characteristics of living things
Ruth Reply
Movement Respiration Nutrition/Feeding Irritability/Sensitivity Growth Excretion Reproduction Deat/Life span
What makes children from the same father and mother sometimes don't look alike?
One of the main one's is the abilit reproduce. That is why viruses are not considered living. Because they do not have the ability to replicate on they own.
identification of problems
Nana Reply
what happens in the process of raising the human arms
what is biology
Brandi Reply
first step in scientific method
The study of living things.
In an investigation the pancreatic duct of a mammal was blocked.It was found that the blood sugar regulation remained normal while food digestion was impaired.Explain
Mac Reply
To begin with, obstruction of pancreatic duct will alter the blood sugar level as the juices responsible for glucose regulation will be rendered inconsequential. This will in turn affect the rate of digestion and absorbtion of digested food substances by the Villus .
characteristics of algae
Algae are eukaryotic organisms. Algae do not have roots and stems. Algae have chlorophyll and helps in carrying out photosynthesis.

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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