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Plant Cell

Making a 3D Plant Cell

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Short and brief description of a plant cell

  Cell (biology) -- Media -- Encarta  Online

Plant cells contain a variety of membrane-bound structures called organelles. These include a nucleus that carries genetic material; mitochondria that generate energy; ribosomes that manufacture proteins; smooth endoplasmic reticulum that manufactures lipids used for making membranes and storing energy; and a thin lipid membrane that surrounds the cell. Plant cells also contain chloroplasts that capture energy from sunlight and a single fluid-filled vacuole that stores compounds and helps in plant growth. Plant cells are surrounded by a rigid cell wall that protects the cell and maintains its shape.

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Plant Cell Structure

Plants are unique amongst the eukaryotes, organisms whose cells have membrane-enclosed nuclei and organelles, because they can manufacture their own food. Chlorophyll, which gives plants their green color, enables them to use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugars and carbohydrates; chemicals the cell uses for fuel.

Anatomy of the Plant Cell

Like the fungi, another kingdom of eukaryotes, plant cells have retained the protective cell wall structure of their prokaryotic ancestors. The basic plant cell has the basic construction of a typical eukaryote cell, but does not have centrioles, lysosomes, cilia, or flagella as does the animal cell. Plant cells do have specialized structures: a rigid cell wall, central vacuole, plasmodesmata, and chloroplasts.

It is estimated that there are at least 260,000 species of plants in the world today. They range in size and complexity from small, nonvascular mosses to giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms as tall as 330 feet (100 meters). Only a tiny percentage of those species are directly used by people for food, shelter, fiber, and medicine. Nonetheless, plants are the basis for the Earth's ecosystem and food web and, without them, complex animal life forms (such as humans) could never have evolved.

Thought to have evolved from the green algae, plants have been around since the early Paleozoic era, more than 500 million years ago. The earliest fossil evidence of land plants dates to the Ordovician Period (505 to 438 million years ago). By the Carboniferous Period, about 355 million years ago, most of the Earth was covered by forests of primitive vascular plants, such as lycopods (scale trees) and gymnosperms (pine trees, ginkgos). Angiosperms, the flowering plants, didn't develop until the end of the Cretaceous Period, about 65 million years ago -- just as the dinosaurs became extinct.

Cell Wall - Like their prokaryotic ancestors, plant cells have a rigid wall surrounding the plasma membrane. It is a far more complex structure, however, and serves a variety of functions, from protecting the cell to regulating the life cycle of the plant organism.

Chloroplast - The most important characteristic of plants is their ability to photosynthesize, i.e. make their own food by converting light energy into chemical energy. This process is carried out in specialized organelles called chloroplasts.

Endoplasmic Reticulum - The endoplasmic reticulum is a network of sacs that manufactures, processes, and transports chemical compounds for use inside and outside of the cell. It is attached to the double-layered nuclear envelope, providing a connection between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. In plants, it also connects between cells via the plasmodesmata.

Golgi Apparatus - The Golgi apparatus is the distribution and shipping department for the cell's chemical products. It modifies proteins and fats built in the endoplasmic reticulum and prepares them for export as outside of the cell.

Microfilaments - Microfilaments are solid rods made of globular proteins called actin. These filaments are primarily structural in function and are an important component of the cytoskeleton.

Microtubules - These straight, hollow cylinders, composed of tubulin protein, are found throughout the cytoplasm of all eukaryotic cells and perform a number of functions.

Mitochondria - Mitochondria are oblong shaped organelles found in the cytoplasm of all eukaryotic cells. In plant cells, they break down carbohydrate and sugar molecules to provide energy, particularly when light isn't available for the chloroplasts to produce energy.

Nucleus - The nucleus is a highly specialized organelle that serves as the information and administrative center of the cell.

Peroxisomes - Microbodies are a diverse group of organelles that are found in the cytoplasm, roughly spherical and bound by a single membrane. There are several types of microbodies but peroxisomes are the most common.

Plasmodesmata - Plasmodesmata are small tubes that connect plant cells to each other, providing living bridges between cells.

Plasma Membrane - All living cells have a plasma membrane that encloses their contents. In prokaryotes and plants, the membrane is the inner layer of protection surrounded by a rigid cell wall. These membranes also regulate the passage of molecules in and out of the cells.

Ribosomes - All living cells contain ribosomes, tiny organelles composed of approximately 60 percent RNA and 40 percent protein. In eukaryotes, ribosomes are made of four strands of RNA. In prokaryotes, they consist of three strands of RNA.

Vacuole - Each plant cell has a large, single vacuole that stores compounds, helps in plant growth, and plays an important structural role for the plant.



Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER)
Cell Wall
Cell Membrane


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Last modified: May 13, 2001