Biological cell

The cell (from latin cellulae: "little rooms") is the basic unit of life.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Features of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells
3 History
4 Related topics


All living cells that are capable of reproducing themselves have certain basic features in common:

They also share several abilities:
  • The capacity to divide by mitosis.
  • Metabolism, including the taking in of raw material, using it to build cell components, or breaking it down for energy, and releasing byproducts.
  • Protein biosynthesis
  • The ability to respond to external and internal stimuli

These functions and abilities are expressed in the cell cycle: the "birth", growth, reproduction, and "death" of individual cells.

Organisms vary from single cells (called single-celled organisms) that function and survive more or less independently, through colonial forms with multiple similar cells living together, to multicellular forms in which cells are specialized and do not generally survive once separated. There are 220 types of cells and tissues that make up the multicellular human body.

Two basic types of cells are described: prokaryotic and eukaryotic. Prokaryotic cells are structurally simple. They are found only in single-celled and colonial organisms. In the three-domain system of Scientific classification, prokaryotic cells are placed in the domains Archaea and Eubacteria. Eukaryotic cells have organelles with their own cell membranes. Single-celled eukaryotic organisms are very diverse, but many colonial and multicellular forms also exist. (The multicellular kingdomss: Animalia, Plantae and Fungi, are all eukaryotic.)

Features of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells

  Prokaryotes Eukaryotes
typical organisms bacteria protists, fungi, plants, animals
typical size ~ 1-10 um ~ 10-100 um
type of nucleus nucleoid region; no real nucleus real nucleus with double membrane
DNA circular (usually) linear molecules (chromosomes) with histone proteins
RNA-/protein-synthesis coupled in cytoplasm RNA-synthesis inside the nucleus
protein synthesis in cytoplasm
ribosomes 50S+30S 60S+40S
cytoplasmatic structure very few structures highly structured by intercellular membranes and a cytoskeleton
cell movement flagella made of flagellin flagella and cilia made of tubulin
mitochondria none one to several dozen (though some lack mitochondria)
chloroplasts none in algae and plants
organization usually single cells single cells, colonies, higher organisms with specialized cells
cell division Binary fission (simple division) Mitosis (core division)
Cytokinesis (cytoplasmatic division)

Prokaryotic cells

Eukaryotic cells

Diagram of a typical eukaryotic (animal) cell

  1. Nucleolus
  2. Nucleus
  3. Ribosome
  4. Vesicle
  5. Rough endoplasmic reticulum (ER)
  6. Golgi apparatus
  7. Microtubule
  8. Smooth ER
  9. Mitochondria
  10. Vacuole
  11. Cytoplasm
  12. Lysosome
  13. Centrioles


...I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honeycomb...these pores or cells , were not very deep, but consisted of a great many little boxes... – Hooke describing his observations on a thin slice of cork.
  • 1839 : Theodor Schwann and Matthias Jakob Schleiden elucidate the principal that plants and animals are made of cells, concluding that cells are a common unit of structure and development, thus founding the Cell Theory.
  • The belief that life forms are able to occur spontaneously (generatio spontanea) is contradicted by Louis Pasteur (1822-1895).
  • Rudolph Virchow states that cells always emerge from cell divisions (omnis cellula ex cellula).
  • 1931: Ernst Ruska builds first transmission electron microscope (TEM) at the University of Berlin. By 1935 he has built an EM with twice the resolution of a light microscope, revealing previously unresolvable organelles.

Related topics

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