Eukaryotic cells possess many features that prokaryotic cells lack, including a nucleus with a double membrane that encloses DNA. In addition, eukaryotic cells tend to be larger and have a variety of membrane-bound organelles that perform specific, compartmentalized functions. Evidence supports the hypothesis that eukaryotic cells likely evolved from prokaryotic ancestors; for example, mitochondria and chloroplasts feature characteristics of independently-living prokaryotes. Eukaryotic cells come in all shapes, sizes, and types (e.g. animal cells, plant cells, and different types of cells in the body). (Hint: This a rare instance where you should create a list of organelles and their respective functions because later you will focus on how various organelles work together, similar to how your body’s organs work together to keep you healthy.) Like prokaryotes, all eukaryotic cells have a plasma membrane, cytoplasm, ribosomes, and DNA. Many organelles are bound by membranes composed of phospholipid bilayers embedded with proteins to compartmentalize functions such as the storage of hydrolytic enzymes and the synthesis of proteins. The nucleus houses DNA, and the nucleolus within the nucleus is the site of ribosome assembly. Functional ribosomes are found either free in the cytoplasm or attached to the rough endoplasmic reticulum where they perform protein synthesis. The Golgi apparatus receives, modifies, and packages small molecules like lipids and proteins for distribution. Mitochondria and chloroplasts participate in free energy capture and transfer through the processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis, respectively. Peroxisomes oxidize fatty acids and amino acids, and they are equipped to break down hydrogen peroxide formed from these reactions without letting it into the cytoplasm where it can cause damage. Vesicles and vacuoles store substances, and in plant cells, the central vacuole stores pigments, salts, minerals, nutrients, proteins, and degradation enzymes and helps maintain rigidity. In contrast, animal cells have centrosomes and lysosomes but lack cell walls.
Blood transfusions in humans were risky procedures until the discovery of the major human blood groups by Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian biologist and physician, in 1900. Until that point, physicians did not understand that death sometimes followed blood transfusions, when the type of donor blood infused into the patient was incompatible with the patient’s own blood. Blood groups are determined by the presence or absence of specific marker molecules on the plasma membranes of erythrocytes. With their discovery, it became possible for the first time to match patient-donor blood types and prevent transfusion reactions and deaths.
Johann Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) was a lifelong learner, teacher, scientist, and man of faith. As a young adult, he joined the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic. Supported by the monastery, he taught physics, botany, and natural science courses at the secondary and university levels.
In addition to the presence of nuclei, eukaryotic cells are distinguished by an endomembrane system that includes the plasma membrane, nuclear envelope, lysosomes, vesicles, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi apparatus. These subcellular components work together to modify, tag, package, and transport proteins and lipids. The rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) with its attached ribosomes is the site of protein synthesis and modification. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) synthesizes carbohydrates, lipids including phospholipids and cholesterol, and steroid hormones; engages in the detoxification of medications and poisons; and stores calcium ions. Lysosomes digest macromolecules, recycle worn-out organelles, and destroy pathogens. Just like your body uses different organs that work together, cells use these organelles interact to perform specific functions. For example, proteins that are synthesized in the RER then travel to the Golgi apparatus for modification and packaging for either storage or transport. If these proteins are hydrolytic enzymes, they can be stored in lysosomes. Mitochondria produce the energy needed for these processes. This functional flow through several organelles, a process which is dependent on energy produced by yet another organelle, serves as a hallmark illustration of the cell’s complex, interconnected dependence on its organelles.
The lifespan of the formed elements is very brief. Although one type of leukocyte called memory cells can survive for years, most erythrocytes, leukocytes, and platelets normally live only a few hours to a few weeks. Thus, the body must form new blood cells and platelets quickly and continuously. When you donate a unit of blood during a blood drive (approximately 475 mL, or about 1 pint), your body typically replaces the donated plasma within 24 hours, but it takes about 4 to 6 weeks to replace the blood cells. This restricts the frequency with which donors can contribute their blood. The process by which this replacement occurs is called hemopoiesis, or hematopoiesis (from the Greek root haima- = “blood”; -poiesis = “production”).
A substance that helps a chemical reaction to occur is a catalyst, and the special molecules that catalyze biochemical reactions are called enzymes. Almost all enzymes are proteins, made up of chains of amino acids, and they perform the critical task of lowering the activation energies of chemical reactions inside the cell. Enzymes do this by binding to the reactant molecules, and holding them in such a way as to make the chemical bond-breaking and bond-forming processes take place more readily. It is important to remember that enzymes don’t change the ∆G of a reaction. In other words, they don’t change whether a reaction is exergonic (spontaneous) or endergonic. This is because they don’t change the free energy of the reactants or products. They only reduce the activation energy required to reach the transition state.
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