Charles Darwin and The Cell

The cell is the structural and functional unit of all living organisms, and is sometimes called the "building block of life." Some organisms, such as bacteria, are unicellular, consisting of a single cell. Other organisms, such as humans, are multicellular, (humans have an estimated 100 trillion or 1014 cells; a typical cell size is 10 µm, a typical cell mass 1 nanogram). The largest known cell is an ostrich egg.

The cell theory, first developed in 1839 by Schleiden and Schwann, states that all organisms are composed of one or more cells; all cells come from preexisting cells; all vital functions of an organism occur within cells, and cells contain the hereditary information necessary for regulating cell functions and for transmitting information to the next generation of cells.

The word cell comes from the Latin cella, a small room. The name was chosen by Robert Hooke when he compared the cork cells he saw to the small rooms monks lived in.

Each cell is at least somewhat self-contained and self-maintaining: it can take in nutrients, convert these nutrients into energy, carry out specialized functions, and reproduce as necessary. Each cell stores its own set of instructions for carrying out each of these activities.

All cells share several abilities:

* Reproduction by cell division (binary fission, mitosis or meiosis).

* Use of enzymes and other proteins coded for by DNA genes and made via messenger RNA intermediates and ribosomes.

* Metabolism, including taking in raw materials, building cell components, converting energy, molecules and releasing by-products. The functioning of a cell depends upon its ability to extract and use chemical energy stored in organic molecules. This energy is derived from metabolic pathways.

* Response to external and internal stimuli such as changes in temperature, pH or nutrient levels.

* Cell contents are contained within a cell surface membrane that contains proteins and a lipid bilayer.

Some prokaryotic cells contain important internal membrane-bound compartments, but eukaryotic cells have a highly specialized endomembrane system characterized by regulated traffic and transport of vesicles.

All cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic, have a membrane, which envelopes the cell, separates its interior from its environment, regulates what moves in and out, and maintains the electric potential of the cell. Inside the membrane, a salty cytoplasm takes up most of the cell volume. All cells possess DNA, the hereditary material of genes, and RNA, containing the information necessary to build various proteins such as enzymes, the cell's primary machinery. There are also other kinds of biomolecules in cells. This article will list these primary components of the cell, then briefly describe their function.

The cytoplasm of a cell is surrounded by a plasma membrane. The plasma membrane in plants and prokaryotes is usually covered by a cell wall. This membrane serves to separate and protect a cell from its surrounding environment and is made mostly from a double layer of lipids (hydrophobic fat-like molecules) and hydrophilic phosphorous molecules. Hence the layer is called a phospholipid bilayer. Embedded within this membrane is a variety of protein molecules that act as channels and pumps that move different molecules into and out of the cell. The membrane is said to be 'semi-permeable', in that it can either let a substance (molecule or ion) pass through freely, pass through to a limited extent or not pass through at all. Cell surface membranes also contain receptor proteins that allow cells to detect external signalling molecules such as hormones.

The cytoskeleton acts to organize and maintain the cell's shape; anchors organelles in place; helps during endocytosis, the uptake of external materials by a cell, and cytokinesis, the separation of daughter cells after cell division; and moves parts of the cell in processes of growth and mobility. Eukaryotic cytoskeleton is composed of microfilaments, intermediate filaments and microtubules. There is a great number of proteins associated with them, each controlling a cell's structure by directing, bundling, and aligning filaments.

Two different kinds of genetic material exist: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). Most organisms use DNA for their long-term information storage, but some viruses (e.g., retroviruses) have RNA as their genetic material. The biological information contained in an organism is encoded in its DNA or RNA sequence. RNA is also used for information transport (e.g., mRNA) and enzymatic functions (e.g., ribosomal RNA) in organisms that use DNA for the genetic code itself.

Prokaryotic genetic material is organized in a simple circular DNA molecule (the bacterial chromosome) in the nucleoid region of the cytoplasm. Eukaryotic genetic material is divided into different, linear molecules called chromosomes inside a discrete nucleus, usually with additional genetic material in some organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts (see endosymbiotic theory).

A human cell has genetic material in the nucleus (the nuclear genome) and in the mitochondria (the mitochondrial genome). In humans the nuclear genome is divided into 46 linear DNA molecules called chromosomes. The mitochondrial genome is a circular DNA molecule separate from the nuclear DNA. Although the mitochondrial genome is very small, it codes for some important proteins.

Foreign genetic material (most commonly DNA) can also be artificially introduced into the cell by a process called transfection. This can be transient, if the DNA is not inserted into the cell's genome, or stable, if it is.

The human body contains many different organs, such as the heart, lung, and kidney, with each organ performing a different function. Cells also have a set of "little organs," called organelles, that are adapted and/or specialized for carrying out one or more vital functions. Membrane-bound organelles are found only in eukaryotes.

The cell nucleus is the most conspicuous organelle found in a eukaryotic cell. It houses the cell's chromosomes, and is the place where almost all DNA replication and RNA synthesis occur. The nucleus is spheroid in shape and separated from the cytoplasm by a double membrane called the nuclear envelope. The nuclear envelope isolates and protects a cell's DNA from various molecules that could accidentally damage its structure or interfere with its processing. During processing, DNA is transcribed, or copied into a special RNA, called mRNA. This mRNA is then transported out of the nucleus, where it is translated into a specific protein molecule. In prokaryotes, DNA processing takes place in the cytoplasm.

Ribosomes are found in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The ribosome is a large complex composed of many molecules, including RNAs and proteins, and is responsible for processing the genetic instructions carried by an mRNA. The process of converting an mRNA's genetic code into the exact sequence of amino acids that make up a protein is called translation. Protein synthesis is extremely important to all cells, and therefore a large number of ribosomes — sometimes hundreds or even thousands — can be found throughout a cell.

Mitochondria are self-replicating organelles that occur in various numbers, shapes, and sizes in the cytoplasm of all eukaryotic cells. As mitochondria contain their own genome that is separate and distinct from the nuclear genome of a cell, they play a critical role in generating energy in the eukaryotic cell, a process involving a number of complex metabolic pathways. Chloroplasts are larger than mitochondria, and convert solar energy into a chemical energy ("food") via photosynthesis. Like mitochondria, chloroplasts have their own genome. Chloroplasts are found only in photosynthetic eukaryotes, like plants and algae. There is a number of plant organelles that are modified chloroplasts; they are broadly called plastids, and are often involved in storage.

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the transport network for molecules targeted for certain modifications and specific destinations, as compared to molecules that will float freely in the cytoplasm. The ER has two forms: the rough ER, which has ribosomes on its surface, and the smooth ER, which lacks them. Translation of the mRNA for those proteins that will either stay in the ER or be exported from the cell occurs at the ribosomes attached to the rough ER. The smooth ER is important in lipid synthesis, detoxification and as a calcium reservoir. The Golgi apparatus, sometimes called a Golgi body or Golgi complex is the central delivery system for the cell and is a site for protein processing, packaging, and transport. Both organelles consist largely of heavily-folded membranes.

Lysosomes and peroxisomes are often referred to as the garbage disposal system of a cell. Both organelles are somewhat spherical, bound by a single membrane, and rich in digestive enzymes, naturally-occurring proteins that speed up biochemical processes. For example, lysosomes can contain more than three dozen enzymes for degrading proteins, nucleic acids, and certain sugars called polysaccharides. Here we can see the importance behind compartmentalization of the eukaryotic cell. The cell could not house such destructive enzymes if they were not contained in a membrane-bound system.

The centrosome produces the microtubules of a cell - a key component of the cytoskeleton. It directs the transport through the ER and the Golgi apparatus. Centrosomes are composed of two centrioles, which separate during cell division and help in the formation of mitotic appratus. A single centrosome is present in the animal cells. They are also found in some fungi and algae cells.

Vacuoles store food and waste. Some vacuoles store extra water. They are often described as liquid filled space and are surrounded by a membrane. Some cells, most notably Amoeba have contractile vacuoles, which are able to pump water out of the cell if there is too much water.

There are two types of cells, eukaryotic and prokaryotic. Prokaryotic cells are usually singletons, while eukaryotic cells are usually found in multi-cellular organisms.

Prokaryotes are distinguished from eukaryotes on the basis of nuclear organization, specifically their lack of a nuclear membrane. Prokaryotes also lack most of the intracellular organelles and structures that are characteristic of eukaryotic cells (an important exception is the ribosomes, which are present in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells). Most of the functions of organelles, such as mitochondria, chloroplasts, and the Golgi apparatus, are taken over by the prokaryotic plasma membrane. Prokaryotic cells have three architectural regions: appendages called flagella and pili — proteins attached to the cell surface; a cell envelope consisting of a capsule, a cell wall, and a plasma membrane; and a cytoplasmic region that contains the cell genome (DNA) and ribosomes and various sorts of inclusions. Other differences include:

* The plasma membrane (a phospholipid bilayer) separates the interior of the cell from its environment and serves as a filter and communications beacon.

* Most prokaryotes have a cell wall (some exceptions are Mycoplasma (a bacterium) and Thermoplasma (an archaeon)). It consists of peptidoglycan in bacteria, and acts as an additional barrier against exterior forces. It also prevents the cell from "exploding" (cytolysis) from osmotic pressure against a hypotonic environment. A cell wall is also present in some eukaryotes like fungi, but has a different chemical composition.

* A prokaryotic chromosome is usually a circular molecule (an exception is that of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease). Even without a real nucleus, the DNA is condensed in a nucleoid. Prokaryotes can carry extrachromosomal DNA elements called plasmids, which are usually circular. Plasmids can carry additional functions, such as antibiotic resistance.

Eukaryotic cells are about 10 times the size of a typical prokaryote and can be as much as 1000 times greater in volume. The major difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is that eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound compartments in which specific metabolic activities take place. Most important among these is the presence of a cell nucleus, a membrane-delineated compartment that houses the eukaryotic cell's DNA. It is this nucleus that gives the eukaryote its name, which means "true nucleus." Other differences include:

* The plasma membrane resembles that of prokaryotes in function, with minor differences in the setup. Cell walls may or may not be present.

* The eukaryotic DNA is organized in one or more linear molecules, called chromosomes, which are associated with histone proteins. All chromosomal DNA is stored in the cell nucleus, separated from the cytoplasm by a membrane. Some eukaryotic organelles also contain some DNA.

* Eukaryotes can move using cilia or flagella. The flagella are more complex than those of prokaryotes.

Between successive cell divisions, cells grow through the functioning of cellular metabolism. Cell metabolism is the process by which individual cells process nutrient molecules. Metabolism has two distinct divisions: catabolism, in which the cell breaks down complex molecules to produce energy and reducing power, and anabolism, wherein the cell uses energy and reducing power to construct complex molecules and perform other biological functions. Complex sugars consumed by the organism can be broken down into a less chemically-complex sugar molecule called glucose. Once inside the cell, glucose is broken down to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a form of energy, via two different pathways.

The first pathway, glycolysis, requires no oxygen and is referred to as anaerobic metabolism. Each reaction is designed to produce some hydrogen ions that can then be used to make energy packets (ATP). In prokaryotes, glycolysis is the only method used for converting energy. The second pathway, called the Krebs cycle, or citric acid cycle, occurs inside the mitochondria and is capable of generating enough ATP to run all the cell functions.

Cell division involves a single cell (called a mother cell) dividing into two daughter cells. This leads to growth in multicellular organisms (the growth of tissue) and to procreation (vegetative reproduction) in unicellular organisms.

Prokaryotic cells divide by binary fission. Eukaryotic cells usually undergo a process of nuclear division, called mitosis, followed by division of the cell, called cytokinesis. A diploid cell may also undergo meiosis to produce haploid cells, usually four. Haploid cells serve as gametes in multicellular organisms, fusing to form new diploid cells.

DNA replication, or the process of duplicating a cell's genome, is required every time a cell divides. Replication, like all cellular activities, requires specialized proteins for carrying out the job.

Cells are capable of synthesizing new proteins, which are essential for the modulation and maintenance of cellular activities. This process involves the formation of new protein molecules from amino acid building blocks based on information encoded in DNA/RNA. Protein synthesis generally consists of two major steps: transcription and translation.

Transcription is the process where genetic information in DNA is used to produce a complimentary RNA strand. This RNA stand is then processed to give messenger RNA (mRNA), which is free to migrate through the cell. mRNA molecules bind to protein-RNA complexes called ribosomes located in the cytosol, where they are translated into polypeptide sequences. The ribosome mediates the formation of a polypeptide sequence based on the mRNA sequence. The mRNA sequence directly relates to the polypeptide sequence by binding to transfer RNA (tRNA) adapter molecules in binding pockets within the ribosome. The new polypeptide then folds into a functional 3D protein molecule.

The origin of cells has to do with the origin of life, and was one of the most important steps in evolution of life as we know it. The birth of the cell marked the passage from prebiotic chemistry to biological life.

If life is viewed from the point of view of replicators, that is DNA molecules in the organism, cells satisfy two fundamental conditions: protection from the outside environment and confinement of biochemical activity. The former condition is needed to maintain the fragile DNA chains stable in a varying and sometimes aggressive environment, and may have been the main reason for which cells evolved. The latter is fundamental for the evolution of biological complexity. If freely-floating DNA molecules that code for enzymes are not enclosed into cells, the enzymes that benefit a given DNA molecule (for example, by producing nucleotides) will automatically benefit the neighbouring DNA molecules. This might be viewed as "parasitism by default." Therefore the selection pressure on DNA molecules will be much lower, since there is not a definitive advantage for the "lucky" DNA molecule that produces the better enzyme over the others: All molecules in a given neighbourhood are almost equally advantaged.

If all the DNA molecule is enclosed in a cell, then the enzymes coded from the molecule will be kept close to the DNA molecule itself. The DNA molecule will directly enjoy the benefits of the enzymes it codes, and not of others. This means other DNA molecules won't benefit from a positive mutation in a neighbouring molecule: this in turn means that positive mutations give immediate and selective advantage to the replicator bearing it, and not on others. This is thought to have been the one of the main driving force of evolution of life as we know it. (Note. This is more a metaphor given for simplicity than complete accuracy since the earliest molecules of life, probably up to the stage of cellular life, were most likely RNA molecules that acted as both replicators and enzymes: see RNA world hypothesis. However, the core of the reasoning is the same.)

Biochemically, cell-like spheroids formed by proteinoids are observed by heating amino acids with phosphoric acid as a catalyst. They bear much of the basic features provided by cell membranes. Proteinoid-based protocells enclosing RNA molecules could (but not necessarily should) have been the first cellular life forms on Earth.

Another theory holds that the turbulent shores of the ancient coastal waters may have served as a mammoth laboratory, aiding in the countless experiments necessary to bring about the first cell. Waves breaking on the shore create a delicate foam composed of bubbles. Winds sweeping across the ocean have a tendency to drive things to shore, much like driftwood collecting on the beach. It is possible that organic molecules were concentrated on the shorelines in much the same way. Shallow coastal waters also tend to be warmer, further concentrating the molecules through evaporation. While bubbles comprised of mostly water tend to burst quickly, oily bubbles happen to be much more stable, lending more time to the particular bubble to perform these crucial experiments. The Phospholipid is a good example of a common oily compound prevalent in the prebiotic seas. Phospholipids can be constructed in ones mind as a hydrophilic head on one end, and a hydrophobic tail on the other. Phospholipids also possess an important characteristic, that is being able to link together to form a bilayer membrane. A lipid monolayer bubble can only contain oil, and is therefore not conducive to harbouring water-soluble organic molecules. On the other hand, a lipid bilayer bubble can contain water, and was a likely precursor to the modern cell membrane. If a protein came along that increased the integrity of its parent bubble, then that bubble had an advantage, and was placed at the top of the natural selection waiting list. Primitive reproduction can be envisioned when the bubbles burst, releasing the results of the experiment into the surrounding medium. Once enough of the 'right stuff' was released into the medium, the development of the first prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and multi-cellular organisms could be achieved. This theory is expanded upon in the book, The Cell: Evolution of the First Organism by Joseph Panno Ph.D.

The eukaryotic cell seems to have evolved from a symbiotic community of prokaryotic cells. It is almost certain that DNA-bearing organelles like the mitochondria and the chloroplasts are what remains of ancient symbiotic oxygen-breathing bacteria and cyanobacteria, respectively, where the rest of the cell seems to be derived from an ancestral archaean prokaryote cell – a theory termed the endosymbiotic theory.

There is still considerable debate on if organelles like the hydrogenosome predated the origin of mitochondria, or viceversa: see the hydrogen hypothesis for the origin of eukaryotic cells.

* 1632–1723: Antony van Leeuwenhoek teaches himself to grind lenses, builds a microscope and draws protozoa, such as Vorticella from rain water, and bacteria from his own mouth.

* 1665: Robert Hooke discovers cells in cork, then in living plant tissue using an early microscope.

* 1839: Theodor Schwann and Matthias Jakob Schleiden elucidate the principle that plants and animals are made of cells, concluding that cells are a common unit of structure and development, and thus founding the cell theory.

* The belief that life forms are able to occur spontaneously (generatio spontanea) is contradicted by Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) (although Francesco Redi had performed an experiment in 1668 that suggested the same conclusion).

* Rudolph Virchow states that cells always emerge from cell divisions (omnis cellula ex cellula).

* 1931: Ernst Ruska builds first transmission electron microscope (TEM) at the University of Berlin. By 1935, he has built an EM with twice the resolution of a light microscope, revealing previously-unresolvable organelles.

* 1953: Watson and Crick made their first announcement on the double-helix structure for DNA on February 28.

* 1981: Lynn Margulis published Symbiosis in Cell Evolution detailing the endosymbiotic theory.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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