Cell Biology/Cell types/Prokaryotes

Most of these prokaryotic cells are small, ranging from 1 to 10 microns with a diameter no greater than 1 micron. The major differences between Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic cells are that prokaryotes do not have a nucleus as a distinct organelle and rarely have any membrane bound organelles [mitochondria, chloroplasts, endoplasmic reticulum, golgi apparatus, a cytoskeleton of microtubules and microfilaments] (the only exception may be a bacterium discovered to have vacuoles). Both types contain DNA as genetic material, have a surrounding cell membrane, have ribosomes[70 s], accomplish similar functions, and are very diverse. For instance, there are over 200 types of cells in the human body, that vary greatly in size, shape, and function.

The structures of two prokaryotic cells. The bacterium (shown at the top) is a heterotroph, an organism that most of the time eats other organisms. Cyanophytes are autotrophs, organisms that make their food without eating other organisms.

Prokaryotes are cells without a distinct nucleus.They have genetic material but that material is not enclosed within a membrane. Prokaryotes include bacteria and cyanophytes. The genetic material is a single circular DNA strand and is located within the cytoplasm. Recombination happens through transfers of plasmids (short circles of DNA that pass from one bacterium to another). Prokaryoytes do not engulf solids, nor do they have centrioles or asters. Prokaryotes have a cell wall made up of peptidoglycan. In majority of prokaryotes, the genome consists of a circular chromosome whose structure includes fewer proteins that found in the linear chromosomes of eukaryotes. Their chromosome is located in the nucleoid, a region of cytoplasm that appears lighter than surrounding cytoplasm in electron micrographs. Also, a single chromosome have much smaller rings of separately replication DNA called plasmids.

Cell SurfaceEdit

Prokaryotic cell walls maintain cell shape, provide physical protection, and prevents the cell from bursting in a hypotonic environment. In hypertonic environment, most prokaryotes lose water and shrink away from their wall (plasmolyze). The cell walls of prokaryotes differ in molecular composition and construction from those of eukaryotes. The bacterial cell walls contain peptidoglycan, a network of modified-sugar polymers cross linked by short polypeptides. This molecular fabric encloses the entire bacterium and anchors other molecules that extend from its surface. Archaeal cell walls contain a variety of polysaccharides and proteins but lack peptidoglycan.

Gram-positive bacteria have simpler walls with a relatively large amount of peptidoglycan. It has a thick cell wall that traps the crystal violet in the cytoplasm. The alcohol rinse does not remove the crystal violet which masks the added red safanin dye.

Gram-negative bacteria have less peptidoglycan and are structurally more complex, with an outer membrane that contains lipopolysaccharides. It has a thinner layer of peptidoglycan, and it is located in a layer between the plasma membrane and an outer membrane. The crystal violet is easily rinsed from the cytoplasm, and the cell appears pink or red.

The cell wall of many prokaryotes is covered by a capsule, a sticky layer of polysaccharide or protein. The capsule enables prokaryotes to adhere to their substrate or to other individuals in a colony. Some capsules protect against dehydration, and some shield pathogenic prokaryotes from attack by their host's immune system. Some prokaryotes stick to their substrate or to one another by means of hair like protein appendages called fimbriae. They are also known as attachment pili. Fimbriae are usually shorter extension of the plasma membrane.

In uniform environment, flagellated prokaryotes move randomly, but in heterogeneous environment, many prokaryotes exhibit taxis, movement toward or away from a stimulus. For example, prokaryotes that exhibit chemotaxis change their movement pattern in response to chemicals. They move toward nutrients or oxygen (positive chemotaxis) or away from a toxic substance (negative chemotaxis).

Reproduction and AdaptationEdit

Prokaryotes reproduce quickly in a favorable environment. By binary fission, a single prokaryotic cell divid into 2 cells, which then divide into 4, 8, 16, and on. Under optimal conditions, many prokaryotes can divide every 1-3 hours. However the cells eventually exhaust their nutrient supply, poison themselves with metabolic wastes, face competition from other microorganisms, or are consumed by other organisms. The prokaryotes are small, they reproduces by binary fission, and they have short generation times. The ability of some prokaryotes to withstand harsh conditions also contributes to their success. Certain bacteria develop resistant cell called endospores when an essential nutrient is lacking. The original cell produces a copy of its chromosome and surrounds it with a tough wall, forming the endospore. Water is removed from the endospore, and its metabolism halt. The rest of the original cell then disintegrates, leaving the endospore behind. Most endospore are so durable that they can survive in boiling water. In less hostile environments, endospore can remain dormant but viable for centuries, able to rehydrate and resume metabolism when their environment improves.

Due to their short generation times, prokaryotic populations can evolve substantially in short periods of time. The ability of prokaryotes to adapt rapidly to new conditions highlights the fact that although the structure of their cells is simpler than that of eukaryotic cells, prokaryotes are not "primitive" or "inferior" in an evolutionary sense. They are highly evolved, and their population have responded successfully to many different types of environmental challenges.

Rapid reproduction and mutation In sexually reproducing species, the generation of a novel allele by a new mutation is rare at any particular gene. Instead, most of the genetic variation in sexual populations results from the way existing alleles are arranged in new combinations during meiosis and fertilization. Prokaryotes do not reproduce sexually, so at first glance their extensive genetic variation may seem puzzling.

After repeated rounds of division, most of the offspring cells are genetically identical to the original parent cell; however owing to insertions, deletions, and base-pair substitutions in their DNA, some of the offspring cells may differ genetically. The new mutations, though individually rare, can greatly increase genetic diversity in specie that has short generation times and large population sizes. This diversity, in turn, can lead to rapid evolution: individuals that are genetically better equipped for their local environment tend to survive and reproduce more prolifically than less fit individuals.

Transformation and TransductionEdit

In transformation, the genotype and possible phenotype of a prokaryotic cell are altered by the uptake of foreign DNA from its surroundings. For example, bacteria from a harmless strain of Streptococcus pneumonia can be transformed to pneumonia-causing cells if they are placed into a medium containing dead, broken-open cells of the pathogenic strain. This transformation occurs when a live nonpathogenic cell takes up a piece of DNA carry the allele for pathogenicity. The foreign allele is then incorporated into the cell's chromosome, replacing the existing nonpathogenic allele- an exchange of homologous DNA segments. The cell is now a recombinant: Its chromosome contains DNA derived from two different cells.

In transduction, bacteriophage carries bacterial genes from one hose cell to another; transduction is a type of horizontal gene transfer. For most phages, transduction results from accidents that occur during the phage reproductive cycle. A virus that carries bacterial DNA may not be able to reproduce because it lacks its own genetic material. However, the virus may be able to attach to another bacterium (a recipient) and inject the piece of bacterial DNA acquired from the first cell (the donor). Some of this DNA may subsequently replace the homologous region of the recipient cell's chromosome by DNA recombination. In such a case, the recipient cell's chromosome becomes a combination of NA derived from two cells; genetic recombination has occurred.

Conjugation and Plasmids In a process called conjugation, genetic material is transferred between two bacterial cells ( of same or different species) that are temporarily joined. The DNA transfer is one way: One cell donates the DNA, and the other receives it. The donor uses sex pili to attach to the recipient. After contacting a recipient cell, each sex pilus retracts, pulling the two cells together, much like a grappling hook. A temporary "mating bridge" then forms between the two cells, providing an avenue for DNA transfer. In most cases, the ability to form sex pili and donate DNA during conjugation results from the presence of a particular piece of DNA called the F factor. The F factor consists about 25 genes, most required for the production of sex pili. The F factor can exist either as a plasmid or as a segment of DNA within the bacterial chromosome.

The F factor in its plasmid form is called F plasmid. Cells containing the F plasmid, designated F+ cells, function as DNA donors during conjugation. Cells lacking the F factor, designated F-, function as DNA recipients during conjugation. The F+ condition is transferable in the sense that an F+ cell converts and F- cell to F+ is a copy of the entire F+ plasmid is transferred.

Chromosomal genes can be transferred during conjugation when the donor cell's F factor is integrated into the chromosome. A cell with the F factor built into its chromosome is called an Hfr cell. Like an F+ cell, an Hfr cell functions as a donor during conjugation with an F- cell. When chromosomal DNA from an Hfr cell enters and F- cell, homologous regions of the HFr and F- chromosomes may align, allowing segments of their DNA to be exchanged. This results in the production of a recombinant bacterium that has genes derived from two different cells- a new genetic cariant on which evolution can act. Though these processes of horizontal gene transfer have so far been studied almost exclusively in bacteria, it is assumed that they are similarly important in archaea.

Diverse nutritional and metabolic adaptationsEdit

The mechanisms discussed in the previous section- rapid reproduction, mutation, and genetic recombination- underlie that extensive genetic variation found in prokaryotic populations. This variation is reflected in the nutritional adaptations found in prokaryotes. Like all organisms, prokaryotes can be categorized by their nutrition; how they obtain every and the carbon used in building the organic molecules that make up cells. Nutritional diversity is greater among prokaryotes than among eukaryotes: Every type of nutrition observed in eukaryotes is represented among the prokaryotes, along with some nutritional modes unique to prokaryotes. Phototrophs are the organisms that obtain energy from light. Chemotrophs are the organisms that obtain energy from chemicals. Organisms that need only an inorganic compound are called autotrophs. Heterotrophs require at least one organic nutrient to make other organic compounds. Combining these possibilities for energy sources and carbon sources results in four major modes of nutrition.

Photoautotrophs: photosynthetic organisms that capture light energy and use it to drive the synthesis of organic compounds and other inorganic carbon compounds. Cyanobacteria and many other groups of prokaryotes are photoautotrophs, as are plants and algae.

Chemoautotrophs: also need only an inorganic compound; however, instead of using light as an energy source, they oxidize inorganic substance, such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, or ferrous ions. This mode of nutrition is unique to certain prokaryotes.

Photoheterotrophs: Harness energy from light but must obtain carbon in organic form. This mode is unique to certain marine and halophilic (salt-loving) prokaryotes.

Chemoheterotrphs: must consume organic molecules to obtain both energy and carbon. This nutritional mode is widespread among prokaryotes. Fungi, animals, most protists, and even some parasitic plants are also chemoheterotrophs.

The Role of Oxygen In MetabolismEdit

Prokaryotic metabolism also varies with respect to oxygen. Obligate aerobes use oxygen for cellular respiration and cannot grow without it. Obligate anaerobes, however, are posioned by oxygen. Some obligate anaerobes live exclusively by fermentation; other extract chemical energy by anaerobic respiration, in which substance other than oxygen such as nitrate ions or sulfate ions accept electrons at the "downhill" end of electron transport chains. Facultative anaerobes use oxygen if it is present but can also carry out anaerobic respiration or fermentation in an anaerobic environment.

Nitrogen Metabolism Nitrogen is essential for the production of amino acids and nucleic acids in all organisms. Whereas eukaryotes can obtain nitrogen from only a limited group of nitrogen compounds, prokaryotes can metabolize nitrogen in a wide variety of forms. For example, some cyanobacteria and some methanogens covert atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia, a process called nitrogen fixation. The cells can then incorporate this "fixed" nitrogen into amino acids and other organic molecules. In terms of their nutrition, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria are some of the most self-sufficient organisms, since they need only light, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water and some minerals to grow. Nitrogen fixation by prokaryotes has a large impact on other organisms. For example, nitrogen -fixing prokaryotes can increase the nitrogen but can use the nitrogen compounds that the prokaryotes produce from ammonia.

Metabolic Cooperation Cooperation between prokaryotes allows them to use environmental resource they could not use as individual cells. In some cases, this cooperation takes place between specialized cells of a colony. For instance, the cyanobacterium Anabaena has genes than encode proteins for photosynthesis and for nitrogen fixation, but a single cell cannot carry out both processes at the same time. The reason is that photosynthesis produces oxygen which inactivates the enzymes involved in nitrogen fixation. Instead of living as isolated cells, anabaena forms filamentous colonies synthesis while a few specialized cells called heterocytes carry out only nitrogen fixation. Each heterocyte is surrounded by a thickened cell wall that restricts entry of oxygen produced by neighboring photosynthetic cells. Intercellular connections allow heterocytes to transport fixed nitrogen to neighboring cells and to receive carbohydrates.

Metabolic cooperation between different prokaryotic species often occurs in surface-coating colonies known as biofilms. Cells in a biofilm secrete signaling molecules that recruit nearby cells, causing the colonies to grow. The cells also produce proteins that stick the cells to the substrate and on to another. Channels in the biofilm allow nutrients to reach cells in the interior and wastes to be expelled. Biofilm damage industrial and medical equipment, contaminate products, and contribute to tooth decay and more serious health problems. In another example of cooperation between prokaryotes, sulfate-consuming bacteria coexist with methane-consuming archaea in ball- shaped aggregates on the ocean floor. The bacteria appear to use the archaea's waste products, such as organic compounds and hydrogen. In turn, the bacteria produce compounds that facilitate methane consumption by the archaea. This partnership has global ramifications.


Berg, Jeremy M., John L. Tymoczko, and Lubert Stryer. Biochemistry. 7th ed. New York: W.H. Freeman, 2012. Print.

Reece, Campbell, Lisa A. Urry, Michael L. Cain, Steven A. Wasserman, Peter V. Minosky, and Robert B. Jackson. Biology. 8th ed. San Francisco: Cummings, 2010. Print.

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