Introduction to Cells: The Grand Cell Tour

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If you had to think about the most exciting day you ever had in a science classroom, which

day would that be?

Looking back through the years---we have a few.

The time we participated in an earthworm dissection.

The time we took apart an owl pellet.

The osmosis eggs.

All of the fruit flies in genetic experiments.

Oh, I could go on, but I will never forget one day in my 9th grade science class.

My teacher brought in pond water.

And I put one drop of pond water on a microscope slide and saw the most amazing thing ever…I

saw, an amoeba.

A single celled amoeba on that microscope slide, and

I was forever stuck on science from that point on.

Because I could not believe this little cell was there, alive on this slide, still eating

because that’s what amoebas do a lot.

To imagine that every person is actually made of billions of cells---of course not amoeba

cells but animals cells--- billions of animal cells, is fascinating.

In fact, it really makes you reflect on some of the incredible statements of the modern

cell theory.

The modern cell theory includes the following: 1st that the cell is the smallest living unit

in all organisms.

2nd that all living things are made of cells.

One or more cells.

The amoeba I observed was a single-celled organism, so unicellular.

Humans are made of many cells, so multicellular.

And 3rd, all cells come from other, pre-existing cells.

Cells have their own little world inside them.

They carry genetic information!

They can divide!

Many have functions and processes that their organelles, structures inside them, can take

care of.

On our planet, we can divide cells into two major groups.

As a cell, you’re either a prokaryote or an eukaryote.

Bacteria and Arachae are prokaryotes.

Everything else---plants, animals, fungi, protists----are eukaryotes.

Both prokaryotes and eukaryotes have genetic material.

Both have cytoplasm.

Both have ribosomes, which are small organelles that make proteins.

Both have cell membranes which control what goes in and out of the cell.

But what makes them different is a big deal.

Prokaryote---pro rhymes with no---they have no nucleus which holds the genetic material

and controls the cell’s activities.

Prokaryotes have no membrane bound organelles.

Membrane bound organelles are fancy organelles like the nucleus and mitochondria and golgi


Eukaryotes---eu rhymes with do----they do have membrane bound organelles.

So now you may be wondering what do the organelles do---what are their functions?

Well you know our style---we love our science with a side of comics.

So we want to take you on a tour of the ride of your life---into the inside of a cell!

To start our trip, we’re first going to have to get through this cell membrane, also

called a plasma membrane.

It’s selectively permeable which means that it only lets certain select materials in and


By doing so, it keeps things in the cell stable---also known as keeping homeostasis.

We have an entire video on just the membrane

itself---which is found in all cells, but for now, we’re just going to have to squeeze

through this protein in the membrane.

Inside the cell, we find ourselves in this jelly like material called cytoplasm.

It surrounds all of these internal cell structures, and you’ll find it inside both prokaryotes

and eukaryotes.

Now organelles that are just floating around in the cytoplasm can have more support than

you might think.

Cells contain a cytoskeleton which is a collection of fibers that will provide support for the

cell and its organelles.

The cytoskeleton can even play a major role in movement.

The cytoskeleton actually deserves its own video though because it is very complex---and

its organization varies depending on what kind of cell you’re looking at.

Moving through this cytoplasm, let’s start with ribosomes.

They are NOT membrane bound organelles and they are going to be in both prokaryotes and


And they make protein.

Which is really important because that’s what so much of genetic material---DNA codes


Ribosomes can be free in the cytoplasm.

They can be attached to another organelle too, which we’ll talk about a bit later.

We are now going to focus on eukaryote organelles, which means, organelles that will be membrane


So this takes our travel to the big boss, the nucleus.

In eukaryotes, it holds the genetic material.

Genetic material as in DNA for example.

All cells have DNA but if you’re an eukaryote, you have a nucleus to put it in.

The nucleus controls the cell activities.

Inside it, it has a nucleolus, which is where ribosomes can be produced.

Attached to the membrane of the nucleus, or nuclear membrane, you can find the endoplasmic


ER for short.

It does a lot of processing of molecules for the cell---like protein folding----and it

also is highly involved in actually transporting those molecules around.

Like a highway!

There is rough ER which has ribosomes attached to it, making it---as you can imagine---rough.

And them smooth ER which doesn’t have the ribosomes.

Rough ER specifically tends to be involved with protein producing and transporting, because

remember that ribosomes make protein.

Molecules that leave the ER can be sent away in vesicles that actually pinch off of the

ER themselves.

Smooth ER has many additional roles including detoxification, which is one reason why your

liver cells tend to have a lot of smooth ER.

Another additional role of smooth ER is that it can make some types of lipids.

Next the Golgi apparatus.

It’s the ultimate packaging center.

It can receive items from the transport vesicles that pinched off of the ER.

It has enzymes that can modify molecules it may receive and it sorts the materials it

receives as well.

It can determine where to send those molecules---including some that may eventually be sent to the membrane

so they can be secreted, which means, items that can sent out of the cell.

So with all that’s going on in here, you might start to wonder…what’s powering

this thing?

The mighty mitochondria.

Or mitochondrion, if just talking about 1.

Like a power plant!

This thing makes ATP energy in a process called cellular respiration.

It’s not a type of power plant that you would think of…it runs on glucose, which

is a sugar, and needs the presence of oxygen to efficiently make ATP energy.

Now at this point, we need to mention that eukaryotes are not a one size fits all. Animal cells can have differences from plant cells.

We have a…fork in the road here.

For example, plant cells not only have mitochondria, but they also can have these awesome organelles

called chloroplasts.

Chloroplasts actually make glucose by using light energy in a process known as photosynthesis.

They tend to have a green look to them because they have a pigment that captures light energy

and reflects green light.

Both plant and animal cells can have vacuoles---now vacuoles can have a lot of different functions

but many types act as storage of materials.

Plant cells can have one large vacuole called a central vacuole while animal cells can have

several smaller vacuoles.

Remember how we already said that all cells have membranes?

Plant cells additionally have a cell wall which is a layer that offers additional protection

and shape maintenance that animal cells do not.

Hmm now how to get out of this animal cell we’ve been in?

Well…we could get out like a protein would.

So if we were a protein, we would only be made because of instructions from DNA and

remember that in Eukaryotes, DNA is found in the nucleus.

We would be made by a ribosome.

The ribosomes could be attached to the Rough ER.

The Rough ER highway would provide a vesicle to send us to the Golgi apparatus where the

sorting can take place.

And…if we’re tagged for being secreted...we’re sent off thru a vesicle from the Golgi to

the membrane.

And…out we go!

Just keep in mind that in our quick tour, there are still so many more awesome organelles

found in different types of eukaryote cells to continue exploring so to the Google for


Well that’s it for the Amoeba Sisters and we remind you to stay curious!