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|Onion (Allium) cells in different phases of the cell cycle|
|The cells of eukaryotes (left) and prokaryotes (right)|
|Onion (Allium) cells in different phases of the cell cycle|
|The cells of eukaryotes (left) and prokaryotes (right)|
The cell (from Latin cella, meaning "small room") is the basic structural, functional and biological unit of all known living organisms. Cells are the smallest unit of life that can replicate independently, and are often called the "building blocks of life". The study of cells is called cell biology.
Cells consist of a protoplasm enclosed within a membrane, which contains many biomolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. Organisms can be classified as unicellular (consisting of a single cell; including most bacteria) or multicellular (including plants and animals). While the number of cells in plants and animals varies from species to species, humans contain about 100 trillion (1014) cells. Most plant and animal cells are visible only under the microscope, with dimensions between 1 and 100 micrometres.
The cell was discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665. The cell theory, first developed in 1839 by Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, states that all organisms are composed of one or more cells, that all cells come from preexisting cells, that vital functions of an organism occur within cells, and that all cells contain the hereditary information necessary for regulating cell functions and for transmitting information to the next generation of cells. Cells emerged on Earth at least 3.5 billion years ago.
There are two types of cells, eukaryotes, which contain a nucleus, and prokaryotes, which do not. Prokaryotic cells are usually single-celled organisms, while eukaryotic cells can be either single-celled or part of multicellular organisms.
|Typical organisms||bacteria, archaea||protists, fungi, plants, animals|
|Typical size||~ 1–5 µm||~ 10–100 µm|
|Type of nucleus||nucleoid region; no true nucleus||true nucleus with double membrane|
|DNA||circular (usually)||linear molecules (chromosomes) with histone proteins|
|RNA/protein synthesis||coupled in the cytoplasm||RNA synthesis in the nucleus|
protein synthesis in the cytoplasm
|Ribosomes||50S and 30S||60S and 40S|
|Cytoplasmic structure||very few structures||highly structured by endomembranes and a cytoskeleton|
|Cell movement||flagella made of flagellin||flagella and cilia containing microtubules; lamellipodia and filopodia containing actin|
|Mitochondria||none||one to several thousand (though some lack mitochondria)|
|Chloroplasts||none||in algae and plants|
|Organization||usually single cells||single cells, colonies, higher multicellular organisms with specialized cells|
|Cell division||Binary fission (simple division)||Mitosis (fission or budding)|
Prokaryotic cells were the first form of life on Earth. They are simpler and smaller than eukaryotic cells, and lack membrane-bound organelles such as the nucleus. Prokaryotes include two of the domains of life, bacteria and archaea. The DNA of a prokaryotic cell consists of a single chromosome that is in direct contact with the cytoplasm. The nuclear region in the cytoplasm is called the nucleoid.
A prokaryotic cell has three architectural regions:
Plants, animals, fungi, slime moulds, protozoa, and algae are all eukaryotic. These cells are about fifteen times wider than a typical prokaryote and can be as much as a thousand times greater in volume. The main distinguishing feature of eukaryotes as compared to prokaryotes is compartmentalization: the presence of membrane-bound compartments in which specific metabolic activities take place. Most important among these is a cell nucleus, a membrane-delineated compartment that houses the eukaryotic cell's DNA. This nucleus gives the eukaryote its name, which means "true nucleus." Other differences include:
All cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic, have a membrane that envelops the cell, regulates what moves in and out (selectively permeable), and maintains the electric potential of the cell. Inside the membrane, a salty cytoplasm takes up most of the cell volume. All cells (except red blood cells which lack a cell nucleus and most organelles to accommodate maximum space for hemoglobin) possess DNA, the hereditary material of genes, and RNA, containing the information necessary to build various proteins such as enzymes, the cell's primary machinery. There are also other kinds of biomolecules in cells. This article lists these primary components of the cell, then briefly describes their function.
The cell membrane, or plasma membrane, surrounds the cytoplasm of a cell. In animals, the plasma membrane is the outer boundary of the cell, while in plants and prokaryotes it is usually covered by a cell wall. This membrane serves to separate and protect a cell from its surrounding environment and is made mostly from a double layer of phospholipids, which are amphiphilic (partly hydrophobic and partly hydrophilic). Hence, the layer is called a phospholipid bilayer, or sometimes a fluid mosaic membrane. Embedded within this membrane is a variety of protein molecules that act as channels and pumps that move different molecules into and out of the cell. The membrane is said to be 'semi-permeable', in that it can either let a substance (molecule or ion) pass through freely, pass through to a limited extent or not pass through at all. Cell surface membranes also contain receptor proteins that allow cells to detect external signaling molecules such as hormones.
The cytoskeleton acts to organize and maintain the cell's shape; anchors organelles in place; helps during endocytosis, the uptake of external materials by a cell, and cytokinesis, the separation of daughter cells after cell division; and moves parts of the cell in processes of growth and mobility. The eukaryotic cytoskeleton is composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules. There are a great number of proteins associated with them, each controlling a cell's structure by directing, bundling, and aligning filaments. The prokaryotic cytoskeleton is less well-studied but is involved in the maintenance of cell shape, polarity and cytokinesis.
Two different kinds of genetic material exist: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Cells use DNA for their long-term information storage. The biological information contained in an organism is encoded in its DNA sequence. RNA is used for information transport (e.g., mRNA) and enzymatic functions (e.g., ribosomal RNA). Transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules are used to add amino acids during protein translation.
Prokaryotic genetic material is organized in a simple circular DNA molecule (the bacterial chromosome) in the nucleoid region of the cytoplasm. Eukaryotic genetic material is divided into different, linear molecules called chromosomes inside a discrete nucleus, usually with additional genetic material in some organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts (see endosymbiotic theory).
A human cell has genetic material contained in the cell nucleus (the nuclear genome) and in the mitochondria (the mitochondrial genome). In humans the nuclear genome is divided into 46 linear DNA molecules called chromosomes, including 22 homologous chromosome pairs and a pair of sex chromosomes. The mitochondrial genome is a circular DNA molecule distinct from the nuclear DNA. Although the mitochondrial DNA is very small compared to nuclear chromosomes, it codes for 13 proteins involved in mitochondrial energy production and specific tRNAs.
Foreign genetic material (most commonly DNA) can also be artificially introduced into the cell by a process called transfection. This can be transient, if the DNA is not inserted into the cell's genome, or stable, if it is. Certain viruses also insert their genetic material into the genome.
Organelles are parts of the cell which are adapted and/or specialized for carrying out one or more vital functions, analogous to the organs of the human body (such as the heart, lung, and kidney, with each organ performing a different function). Both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells have organelles, but prokaryotic organelles are generally simpler and are not membrane-bound.
There are several types of organelles in a cell. Some (such as the nucleus and golgi apparatus) are typically solitary, while others (such as mitochondria, chloroplasts, peroxisomes and lysosomes) can be numerous (hundreds to thousands). The cytosol is the gelatinous fluid that fills the cell and surrounds the organelles.
Many cells also have structures which exist wholly or partially outside the cell membrane. These structures are notable because they are not protected from the external environment by the impermeable cell membrane. In order to assemble these structures, their components must be carried across the cell membrane by export processes.
Many types of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells have a cell wall. The cell wall acts to protect the cell mechanically and chemically from its environment, and is an additional layer of protection to the cell membrane. Different types of cell have cell walls made up of different materials; plant cell walls are primarily made up of pectin, fungi cell walls are made up of chitin and bacteria cell walls are made up of peptidoglycan.
A gelatinous capsule is present in some bacteria outside the cell membrane and cell wall. The capsule may be polysaccharide as in pneumococci, meningococci or polypeptide as Bacillus anthracis or hyaluronic acid as in streptococci. (See Bacterial capsule.) Capsules are not marked by normal staining protocols and can be detected by India ink or methyl blue; which allows for higher contrast between the cells for observation.:87
Flagella are organelles for cellular mobility. The bacterial flagellum stretches from cytoplasm through the cell membrane(s) and extrudes through the cell wall. They are long and thick thread-like appendages, protein in nature. Are most commonly found in bacteria cells but are found in animal cells as well.
They are short and thin hair-like filaments, formed of protein called pilin (antigenic). Fimbriae are responsible for attachment of bacteria to specific receptors of human cell (adherence). There are special types of pili called (sex pili) involved in conjunction. (See Pilus.)
Between successive cell divisions, cells grow through the functioning of cellular metabolism. Cell metabolism is the process by which individual cells process nutrient molecules. Metabolism has two distinct divisions: catabolism, in which the cell breaks down complex molecules to produce energy and reducing power, and anabolism, in which the cell uses energy and reducing power to construct complex molecules and perform other biological functions. Complex sugars consumed by the organism can be broken down into a less chemically complex sugar molecule called glucose. Once inside the cell, glucose is broken down to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a form of energy, through two different pathways.
The first pathway, glycolysis, requires no oxygen and is referred to as anaerobic metabolism. Each reaction produces ATP and NADH, which are used in cellular functions, as well as two pyruvate molecules that derived from the original glucose molecule. In prokaryotes, all energy is produced by glycolysis.
The second pathway, called the Krebs cycle or citric acid cycle, is performed only by eukaryotes and involves further breakdown of the pyruvate produced in glycolysis. It occurs inside the mitochondria and generates much more energy than glycolysis, mostly through oxidative phosphorylation.
Cell division involves a single cell (called a mother cell) dividing into two daughter cells. This leads to growth in multicellular organisms (the growth of tissue) and to procreation (vegetative reproduction) in unicellular organisms. Prokaryotic cells divide by binary fission, while eukaryotic cells usually undergo a process of nuclear division, called mitosis, followed by division of the cell, called cytokinesis. A diploid cell may also undergo meiosis to produce haploid cells, usually four. Haploid cells serve as gametes in multicellular organisms, fusing to form new diploid cells.
In meiosis, the DNA is replicated only once, while the cell divides twice. DNA replication only occurs before meiosis I. DNA replication does not occur when the cells divide the second time, in meiosis II. Replication, like all cellular activities, requires specialized proteins for carrying out the job.
Cells are capable of synthesizing new proteins, which are essential for the modulation and maintenance of cellular activities. This process involves the formation of new protein molecules from amino acid building blocks based on information encoded in DNA/RNA. Protein synthesis generally consists of two major steps: transcription and translation.
Transcription is the process where genetic information in DNA is used to produce a complementary RNA strand. This RNA strand is then processed to give messenger RNA (mRNA), which is free to migrate through the cell. mRNA molecules bind to protein-RNA complexes called ribosomes located in the cytosol, where they are translated into polypeptide sequences. The ribosome mediates the formation of a polypeptide sequence based on the mRNA sequence. The mRNA sequence directly relates to the polypeptide sequence by binding to transfer RNA (tRNA) adapter molecules in binding pockets within the ribosome. The new polypeptide then folds into a functional three-dimensional protein molecule.
In multicellular organisms, cells can move during processes such as wound healing, the immune response and cancer metastasis. For example, in wound healing in animals, white blood cells move to the wound site to kill the microorganisms that cause infection. Cell motility involves many receptors, crosslinking, bundling, binding, adhesion, motor and other proteins. The process is divided into three steps – protrusion of the leading edge of the cell, adhesion of the leading edge and de-adhesion at the cell body and rear, and cytoskeletal contraction to pull the cell forward. Each step is driven by physical forces generated by unique segments of the cytoskeleton.
In complex multicellular organisms, cells specialize into different cell types that are adapted to particular functions. In mammals, major cell types include skin cells, muscle cells, neurons, blood cells, fibroblasts, stem cells, and others. Cell types differ both in appearance and function, yet are genetically identical. Cells are able to be of the same genotype but different cell type due to the differential regulation of the genes they contain.
Most distinct cell types arise from a single totipotent cell, called a zygote, that differentiates into hundreds of different cell types during the course of development. Differentiation of cells is driven by different environmental cues (such as cell–cell interaction) and intrinsic differences (such as those caused by the uneven distribution of molecules during division).
Multicellularity has evolved independently at least 25 times, including in some prokaryotes, like cyanobacteria, myxobacteria, actinomycetes, Magnetoglobus multicellularis or Methanosarcina. However, complex multicellular organisms evolved only in six eukaryotic groups: animals, fungi, brown algae, red algae, green algae, and plants. It evolved repeatedly for plants (Chloroplastida), once or twice for animals, once for brown algae, and perhaps several times for fungi, slime molds, and red algae. Multicellularity may have evolved from colonies of interdependent organisms, from cellularization, or from organisms in symbiotic relationships.
The first evidence of multicellularity is from cyanobacteria-like organisms that lived between 3 and 3.5 billion years ago. Other early fossils of multicellular organisms include the contested Grypania spiralis and the fossils of the black shales of the Palaeoproterozoic Francevillian Group Fossil B Formation in Gabon.
There are several theories about the origin of small molecules that led to life on the early Earth. They may have been carried to Earth on meteorites (see Murchison meteorite), created at deep-sea vents, or synthesized by lightning in a reducing atmosphere (see Miller–Urey experiment). There is little experimental data defining what the first self-replicating forms were. RNA is thought to be the earliest self-replicating molecule, as it is capable of both storing genetic information and catalyzing chemical reactions (see RNA world hypothesis), but some other entity with the potential to self-replicate could have preceded RNA, such as clay or peptide nucleic acid.
Cells emerged at least 3.5 billion years ago. The current belief is that these cells were heterotrophs. The early cell membranes were probably more simple and permeable than modern ones, with only a single fatty acid chain per lipid. Lipids are known to spontaneously form bilayered vesicles in water, and could have preceded RNA, but the first cell membranes could also have been produced by catalytic RNA, or even have required structural proteins before they could form.
The eukaryotic cell seems to have evolved from a symbiotic community of prokaryotic cells. DNA-bearing organelles like the mitochondria and the chloroplasts are descended from ancient symbiotic oxygen-breathing proteobacteria and cyanobacteria, respectively, which were endosymbiosed by an ancestral archaean prokaryote.
Sex, as the stereotyped choreography of meiosis and syngamy that persists in nearly all extant eukaryotes, may have played a role in the transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes. One view, on the origin of sex in eukaryotic cells, is that eukaryotic sex evolved from a prokaryotic sexual process termed transformation. According to this view, bacterial transformation is an adaptation for repairing DNA damages that arise during stressful conditions, and this role has been maintained in meiosis, where recombinational DNA repair is promoted. Thus the adaptive benefit of prokaryotic sex, recombinational repair, was maintained through the evolutionary transition from prokaryotes to single-celled eukaryotes. This view is also presented in the Wikipedia articles Transformation (genetics), Evolution of sexual reproduction and Sex.
In another view, an 'origin of sex as vaccination' theory suggests that the eukaryote genome accreted from prokaryan parasite genomes in numerous rounds of lateral gene transfer. Sex-as-syngamy (fusion sex) arose when infected hosts began swapping nuclearized genomes containing co-evolved, vertically transmitted symbionts that conveyed protection against horizontal infection by more virulent symbionts.
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