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    Cell (Biology) Experiments

    Cell (Biology) Background Information


    The cell is the basic structural and functional unit of all known living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and is often called the building block of life.


    In biology, the cell is the basic structure of organisms. The environment outside of the cell and the inside of the cell are separated by the cell membrane. Inside some cells, some parts of the cell stay separate from other parts by membranes. These separate parts are called organelles (like small organs.) They each do different things in the cell. Two examples are the nucleus (where DNA is), and mitochondria (where usable energy is created).

    There are 2 basic kinds of cells: prokaryotic cells and eukaryotic cells. Prokaryotes, bacteria and archaea, are simple cells with a completely open internal structure. Eukaryotes are complex cells with many compartments within the cell. Eukaryotes store their genetic information (DNA) in a compartment called the nucleus. In a prokaryotic cell the DNA is not separated from the rest of the cell and it doesn't have a nucleus. In general, all living things (organisms) that are made up of multiple cells are made up of eukaryotic cells.

    The only kinds of prokaryotic organisms that survived to the present are bacteria and archaea. Prokaryotic organisms evolved before eukaryotic organisms, so at one point the world consisted of nothing but prokaryotic organisms.

    There are two kinds of eukaryotic organisms: multicellular and unicellular.

    Unicellular organisms are made up of one cell without other cells to help them to live. Many of these organisms need to eat, move, respire (use oxygen to make sugar into energy) and sense its environment. Examples of unicellular organisms are:

    • Amoeba
    • Paramecium

    Multicellular organisms are made from many cells. They are complex organisms. This can be a small number of cells, or millions of cells. All plants and animals are multicellular organisms. The cells of a multicellular organism are not all the same. They have different shapes and sizes, and do different work in the organism. The cells are specialized. This means they do only some kinds of work. By themselves, they cannot do everything that the organism needs to live. They need other cells to do other work. They live together, but cannot live alone.

    Cell history: Cells were discovered by Robert Hooke. He used a microscope to look at organisms in 1665. He named cells after the Latin word cella, meaning room. He did this because he thought cells looked like small rooms. The idea of cell was than deeper explored by a Czech J.E. Purkyňe in 1837. Finally, three German biologists - Schleiden, Schwann and Virchov - figured out three rules about all cells:

    • All living things are made of cells
    • The cell is the basic unit of structure and function in all organisms.
    • Every cell comes from another cell that lived before it.

    It was in 1838 and 1839. These ideas still are the basic ideas of cell theory.

    Cell reproduction: The body cells of metazoans divide by simple mitotic cell division. Sexual reproduction is ancestral in eukaryotes, and in metazoa it is carried out by specialised sex cells in a process called meiosis. Prokaryotic cells reproduce using binary fission, where the cell simply splits in half. For both mitosis and binary fission the cell must replicate all of its genetic information (DNA) so that each new cell will have a copy.

    Topics of Interest

    The cell is the basic structural and functional unit of all known living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and is often called the building block of life. Some organisms, such as most bacteria, are unicellular (consist of a single cell). Other organisms, such as humans, are multicellular. (Humans have an estimated 100 trillion or 1014 cells; a typical cell size is 10 µm; a typical cell mass is 1 nanogram.) The largest known cell is an unfertilized ostrich egg cell.

    In 1835, before the final cell theory was developed, Jan Evangelista Purkyně observed small "granules" while looking at the plant tissue through a microscope. 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.

    The word cell comes from the Latin cellula, meaning, a small room. The descriptive term for the smallest living biological structure was coined by Robert Hooke in a book he published in 1665 when he compared the cork cells he saw through his microscope to the small rooms monks lived in.

    Each cell is at least somewhat self-contained and self-maintaining: it can take in nutrients, convert these nutrients into energy, carry out specialized functions, and reproduce as necessary. Each cell stores its own set of instructions for carrying out each of these activities. All cells have several different abilities:

    • Reproduction by cell division: (binary fission/mitosis or meiosis).
    • Use of enzymes and other proteins coded for by DNA genes and made via messenger RNA intermediates and ribosomes.
    • Metabolism, including taking in raw materials, building cell components, converting energy, molecules and releasing by-products. The functioning of a cell depends upon its ability to extract and use chemical energy stored in organic molecules. This energy is released and then used in metabolic pathways.
    • Response to external and internal stimuli such as changes in temperature, pH or levels of nutrients.
    • Cell contents are contained within a cell surface membrane that is made from a lipid bilayer with proteins embedded in it.

    There are two types of cells: eukaryotic and prokaryotic. Prokaryotic cells are usually independent, while eukaryotic cells are often found in multicellular organisms.

    The prokaryote cell is simpler, and therefore smaller, than a eukaryote cell, lacking a nucleus and most of the other organelles of eukaryotes. There are two kinds of prokaryotes: bacteria and archaea; these share a similar overall structure. A prokaryotic cell has three architectural regions:

  • on the outside, flagella and pili project from the cell's surface. These are structures (not present in all prokaryotes) made of proteins that facilitate movement and communication between cells;
  • enclosing the cell is the cell envelope – generally consisting of a cell wall covering a plasma membrane though some bacteria also have a further covering layer called a capsule. The envelope gives rigidity to the cell and separates the interior of the cell from its environment, serving as a protective filter. Though most prokaryotes have a cell wall, there are exceptions such as Mycoplasma (bacteria) and Thermoplasma (archaea). The cell wall consists of peptidoglycan in bacteria, and acts as an additional barrier against exterior forces. It also prevents the cell from expanding and finally bursting (cytolysis) from osmotic pressure against a hypotonic environment. Some eukaryote cells (plant cells and fungi cells) also have a cell wall;
  • inside the cell is the cytoplasmic region that contains the cell genome (DNA) and ribosomes and various sorts of inclusions. A prokaryotic chromosome is usually a circular molecule (an exception is that of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease). Though not forming a nucleus, the DNA is condensed in a nucleoid. Prokaryotes can carry extrachromosomal DNA elements called plasmids, which are usually circular. Plasmids enable additional functions, such as antibiotic resistance.

    Eukaryotic cells are about 15 times the size of a typical prokaryote and can be as much as 1000 times greater in volume. The major difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is that eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound compartments in which specific metabolic activities take place. Most important among these is the presence of a cell nucleus, a membrane-delineated compartment that houses the eukaryotic cell's DNA. It is this nucleus that gives the eukaryote its name, which means "true nucleus." Other differences include:

    • The plasma membrane resembles that of prokaryotes in function, with minor differences in the setup. Cell walls may or may not be present.
    • The eukaryotic DNA is organized in one or more linear molecules, called chromosomes, which are associated with histone proteins. All chromosomal DNA is stored in the cell nucleus, separated from the cytoplasm by a membrane. Some eukaryotic organelles such as mitochondria also contain some DNA.
    • Many eukaryotic cells are ciliated with primary cilia. Primary cilia play important roles in chemosensation, mechanosensation, and thermosensation. Cilia may thus be "viewed as sensory cellular antennae that coordinate a large number of cellular signaling pathways, sometimes coupling the signaling to ciliary motility or alternatively to cell division and differentiation."
    • Eukaryotes can move using motile cilia or flagella. The flagella are more complex than those of prokaryotes.

    All cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic, have a membrane that envelops the cell, separates its interior from its environment, 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 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.

    The cytoskeleton (also CSK) is a cellular "scaffolding" or "skeleton" contained within the cytoplasm that is made out of protein. The cytoskeleton is present in all cells; it was once thought this structure was unique to eukaryotes, but recent research has identified the prokaryotic cytoskeleton. It is a dynamic structure that maintains cell shape, protects the cell, enables cellular motion (using structures such as flagella, cilia and lamellipodia), and plays important roles in both intracellular transport (the movement of vesicles and organelles, for example) and cellular division. The concept and the term (cytosquelette, in French) was first introduced by French embryologist Paul Wintrebert in 1931.

    Genetic material: Two different kinds of genetic material exist: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Most organisms use DNA for their long-term information storage, but some viruses (e.g., retroviruses) have RNA as their genetic material. The biological information contained in an organism is encoded in its DNA or RNA sequence. RNA is also used for information transport (e.g., mRNA) and enzymatic functions (e.g., ribosomal RNA) in organisms that use DNA for the genetic code itself. Transfer RNA (tRNA) molecules are used to add specific amino acids during the process of 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.

    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 23 pairs of linear DNA molecules called 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 as well as 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: The human body contains many different organs, such as the heart, lung, and kidney, with each organ performing a different function. Cells also have a set of "little organs," called organelles, that are adapted and/or specialized for carrying out one or more vital functions. There are several types of organelles within an animal cell. Some (such as the nucleus and golgi apparatus) are typically solitary, while others (such as mitochondria, peroxisomes and lysosomes) can be numerous (hundreds to thousands). The cytosol is the gelatinous fluid that fills the cell and surrounds the organelles.

    Cell division: is the process by which a parent cell divides into two or more daughter cells.

    Protein synthesis is the process in which cells build proteins. The term is sometimes used to refer only to protein translation but more often it refers to a multi-step process, beginning with amino acid synthesis and transcription of nuclear DNA into messenger RNA which is then used as input to translation.

    Cell movement or motility: Cells can move during many processes: such as wound healing, the immune response and cancer metastasis. For wound healing to occur, white blood cells and cells that ingest bacteria move to the wound site to kill the microorganisms that cause infection. At the same time fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) move there to remodel damaged structures. In the case of tumor development, cells from a primary tumor move away and spread to other parts of the body. 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 of these steps is driven by physical forces generated by unique segments of the cytoskeleton.

    The origin of cells has to do with the origin of life, which began the history of life on Earth.

    In the natural sciences, abiogenesis is the study of how life on Earth could have arisen from inanimate matter. It should not be confused with evolution, which is the study of how groups of living things change over time. Most Amino acids, often called "the building blocks of life", can form via natural chemical reactions unrelated to life, as demonstrated in the Miller–Urey experiment and similar experiments, which involved simulating the conditions of the early Earth. In all living things, these amino acids are organized into proteins, and the construction of these proteins is mediated by nucleic acids. Which of these organic molecules first arose and how they formed the first life is the focus of abiogenesis.

    The first living things on Earth are thought to be single cell prokaryotes (which lack a cell nucleus), perhaps evolved from protobionts (organic molecules surrounded by a membrane-like structure).

    Stem cells are cells found in most, if not all, multi-cellular organisms. They are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types. Research in the stem cell field grew out of findings by Canadian scientists Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till in the 1960s. The two broad types of mammalian stem cells are: embryonic stem cells that are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells that are found in adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all of the specialized embryonic tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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