The Nucleus and Ribosomes
Found within eukaryotic cells, the nucleus contains the genetic material that determines the entire structure and function of that cell.
Explain the purpose of the nucleus in eukaryotic cells
- The nucleus contains the cell ‘s DNA and directs the synthesis of ribosomes and proteins.
- Found within the nucleoplasm, the nucleolus is a condensed region of chromatin where ribosome synthesis occurs.
- Chromatin consists of DNA wrapped around histone proteins and is stored within the nucleoplasm.
- Ribosomes are large complexes of protein and ribonucleic acid (RNA) responsible for protein synthesis when DNA from the nucleus is transcribed.
- histone: any of various simple water-soluble proteins that are rich in the basic amino acids lysine and arginine and are complexed with DNA in the nucleosomes of eukaryotic chromatin
- nucleolus: a conspicuous, rounded, non-membrane bound body within the nucleus of a cell
- chromatin: a complex of DNA, RNA, and proteins within the cell nucleus out of which chromosomes condense during cell division
One of the main differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells is the nucleus. As previously discussed, prokaryotic cells lack an organized nucleus while eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound nuclei (and organelles ) that house the cell’s DNA and direct the synthesis of ribosomes and proteins.
The nucleus stores chromatin (DNA plus proteins) in a gel-like substance called the nucleoplasm. To understand chromatin, it is helpful to first consider chromosomes. Chromatin describes the material that makes up chromosomes, which are structures within the nucleus that are made up of DNA, the hereditary material. You may remember that in prokaryotes, DNA is organized into a single circular chromosome. In eukaryotes, chromosomes are linear structures. Every eukaryotic species has a specific number of chromosomes in the nuclei of its body’s cells. For example, in humans, the chromosome number is 46, while in fruit flies, it is eight. Chromosomes are only visible and distinguishable from one another when the cell is getting ready to divide. In order to organize the large amount of DNA within the nucleus, proteins called histones are attached to chromosomes; the DNA is wrapped around these histones to form a structure resembling beads on a string. These protein-chromosome complexes are called chromatin.
The nucleoplasm is also where we find the nucleolus. The nucleolus is a condensed region of chromatin where ribosome synthesis occurs. Ribosomes, large complexes of protein and ribonucleic acid (RNA), are the cellular organelles responsible for protein synthesis. They receive their “orders” for protein synthesis from the nucleus where the DNA is transcribed into messenger RNA (mRNA). This mRNA travels to the ribosomes, which translate the code provided by the sequence of the nitrogenous bases in the mRNA into a specific order of amino acids in a protein.
Lastly, the boundary of the nucleus is called the nuclear envelope. It consists of two phospholipid bilayers: an outer membrane and an inner membrane. The nuclear membrane is continuous with the endoplasmic reticulum, while nuclear pores allow substances to enter and exit the nucleus.
Characteristics of Eukaryotic Cells
A eukaryotic cell has a true membrane-bound nucleus and has other membranous organelles that allow for compartmentalization of functions.
Describe the structure of eukaryotic cells
- Eukaryotic cells are larger than prokaryotic cells and have a “true” nucleus, membrane-bound organelles, and rod-shaped chromosomes.
- The nucleus houses the cell’s DNA and directs the synthesis of proteins and ribosomes.
- Mitochondria are responsible for ATP production; the endoplasmic reticulum modifies proteins and synthesizes lipids; and the golgi apparatus is where the sorting of lipids and proteins takes place.
- Peroxisomes carry out oxidation reactions that break down fatty acids and amino acids and detoxify poisons; vesicles and vacuoles function in storage and transport.
- Animal cells have a centrosome and lysosomes while plant cells do not.
- Plant cells have a cell wall, a large central vacuole, chloroplasts, and other specialized plastids, whereas animal cells do not.
- eukaryotic: Having complex cells in which the genetic material is organized into membrane-bound nuclei.
- organelle: A specialized structure found inside cells that carries out a specific life process (e.g. ribosomes, vacuoles).
- photosynthesis: the process by which plants and other photoautotrophs generate carbohydrates and oxygen from carbon dioxide, water, and light energy in chloroplasts
Eukaryotic Cell Structure
Like a prokaryotic cell, a eukaryotic cell has a plasma membrane, cytoplasm, and ribosomes. However, unlike prokaryotic cells, eukaryotic cells have:
- a membrane-bound nucleus
- numerous membrane-bound organelles (including the endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, chloroplasts, and mitochondria)
- several rod-shaped chromosomes
Because a eukaryotic cell’s nucleus is surrounded by a membrane, it is often said to have a “true nucleus.” Organelles (meaning “little organ”) have specialized cellular roles, just as the organs of your body have specialized roles. They allow different functions to be compartmentalized in different areas of the cell.
The Nucleus & Its Structures
Typically, the nucleus is the most prominent organelle in a cell. Eukaryotic cells have a true nucleus, which means the cell’s DNA is surrounded by a membrane. Therefore, the nucleus houses the cell’s DNA and directs the synthesis of proteins and ribosomes, the cellular organelles responsible for protein synthesis. The nuclear envelope is a double-membrane structure that constitutes the outermost portion of the nucleus. Both the inner and outer membranes of the nuclear envelope are phospholipid bilayers. The nuclear envelope is punctuated with pores that control the passage of ions, molecules, and RNA between the nucleoplasm and cytoplasm. The nucleoplasm is the semi-solid fluid inside the nucleus where we find the chromatin and the nucleolus. Furthermore, chromosomes are structures within the nucleus that are made up of DNA, the genetic material. In prokaryotes, DNA is organized into a single circular chromosome. In eukaryotes, chromosomes are linear structures.
Other Membrane-Bound Organelles
Mitochondria are oval-shaped, double membrane organelles that have their own ribosomes and DNA. These organelles are often called the “energy factories” of a cell because they are responsible for making adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s main energy-carrying molecule, by conducting cellular respiration. The endoplasmic reticulum modifies proteins and synthesizes lipids, while the golgi apparatus is where the sorting, tagging, packaging, and distribution of lipids and proteins takes place. Peroxisomes are small, round organelles enclosed by single membranes; they carry out oxidation reactions that break down fatty acids and amino acids. Peroxisomes also detoxify many poisons that may enter the body. Vesicles and vacuoles are membrane-bound sacs that function in storage and transport. Other than the fact that vacuoles are somewhat larger than vesicles, there is a very subtle distinction between them: the membranes of vesicles can fuse with either the plasma membrane or other membrane systems within the cell. All of these organelles are found in each and every eukaryotic cell.
Animal Cells Versus Plant Cells
While all eukaryotic cells contain the aforementioned organelles and structures, there are some striking differences between animal and plant cells. Animal cells have a centrosome and lysosomes, whereas plant cells do not. The centrosome is a microtubule-organizing center found near the nuclei of animal cells while lysosomes take care of the cell’s digestive process.
In addition, plant cells have a cell wall, a large central vacuole, chloroplasts, and other specialized plastids, whereas animal cells do not. The cell wall protects the cell, provides structural support, and gives shape to the cell while the central vacuole plays a key role in regulating the cell’s concentration of water in changing environmental conditions. Chloroplasts are the organelles that carry out photosynthesis.