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Cell size

At 0.1 to 5.0 μm in diameter, prokaryotic cells are significantly smaller than eukaryotic cells, which have diameters ranging from 10 to 100 μm ( [link] ). The small size of prokaryotes allows ions and organic molecules that enter them to quickly diffuse to other parts of the cell. Similarly, any wastes produced within a prokaryotic cell can quickly diffuse out. This is not the case in eukaryotic cells, which have developed different structural adaptations to enhance intracellular transport.

Part a: Relative sizes on a logarithmic scale, from 0.1 nm to 1 m, are shown. Objects are shown from smallest to largest. The smallest object shown, an atom, is about 1 nm in size. The next largest objects shown are lipids and proteins; these molecules are between 1 and 10 nm. Bacteria are about 100 nm, and mitochondria are about 1 greek mu m. Plant and animal cells are both between 10 and 100 greek mu m. A human egg is between 100 greek mu m and 1 mm. A frog egg is about 1 mm, A chicken egg and an ostrich egg are both between 10 and 100 mm, but a chicken egg is larger. For comparison, a human is approximately 1 m tall.
This figure shows relative sizes of microbes on a logarithmic scale (recall that each unit of increase in a logarithmic scale represents a 10-fold increase in the quantity being measured).

Small size, in general, is necessary for all cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic. Let’s examine why that is so. First, we’ll consider the area and volume of a typical cell. Not all cells are spherical in shape, but most tend to approximate a sphere. You may remember from your high school geometry course that the formula for the surface area of a sphere is 4πr 2 , while the formula for its volume is 4πr 3 /3. Thus, as the radius of a cell increases, its surface area increases as the square of its radius, but its volume increases as the cube of its radius (much more rapidly). Therefore, as a cell increases in size, its surface area-to-volume ratio decreases. This same principle would apply if the cell had the shape of a cube ( [link] ). If the cell grows too large, the plasma membrane will not have sufficient surface area to support the rate of diffusion required for the increased volume. In other words, as a cell grows, it becomes less efficient. One way to become more efficient is to divide; another way is to develop organelles that perform specific tasks. These adaptations lead to the development of more sophisticated cells called eukaryotic cells.

Art connection

On the left, a sphere 1 mm in diameter is encased in a box of the same width. On the right, the same sphere is encased in a box 2 mm in diameter.
Notice that as a cell increases in size, its surface area-to-volume ratio decreases. When there is insufficient surface area to support a cell’s increasing volume, a cell will either divide or die. The cell on the left has a volume of 1 mm 3 and a surface area of 6 mm 2 , with a surface area-to-volume ratio of 6 to 1, whereas the cell on the right has a volume of 8 mm 3 and a surface area of 24 mm 2 , with a surface area-to-volume ratio of 3 to 1.

Prokaryotic cells are much smaller than eukaryotic cells. What advantages might small cell size confer on a cell? What advantages might large cell size have?

Section summary

Prokaryotes are predominantly single-celled organisms of the domains Bacteria and Archaea. All prokaryotes have plasma membranes, cytoplasm, ribosomes, and DNA that is not membrane-bound. Most have peptidoglycan cell walls and many have polysaccharide capsules. Prokaryotic cells range in diameter from 0.1 to 5.0 μm.

As a cell increases in size, its surface area-to-volume ratio decreases. If the cell grows too large, the plasma membrane will not have sufficient surface area to support the rate of diffusion required for the increased volume.

Art connections

[link] Prokaryotic cells are much smaller than eukaryotic cells. What advantages might small cell size confer on a cell? What advantages might large cell size have?

[link] Substances can diffuse more quickly through small cells. Small cells have no need for organelles and therefore do not need to expend energy getting substances across organelle membranes. Large cells have organelles that can separate cellular processes, enabling them to build molecules that are more complex.

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Questions & Answers

what is photosynthesis
Victor Reply
The process plants use to convert sunlight into food (energy).
juanita
Some other organisms use
juanita
types of photosynthesis
Victor
ps1 and ps2
smritilekha
what is used to determine phylogeny?
Israel Reply
which condition is the basis for a species to be reproductively isolated from other members?
Israel Reply
Why do scientists consider vestigial structures evidence for evolution?
Israel
8.Which statement about analogies is correct?
Israel
What is true about organisms that are a part of the same clade?
Israel
Why is it so important for scientists to distinguish between homologous and analogous characteristics before building phylogenetic trees?
Israel
(CH2O)n is the stoichiometric formula of
Marcellus Reply
what are nucleotide
Anastijjaninaiya Reply
Methane,ammonia,water and sugar are dissolved to form nuceotide
Me
Introduction To Biology
Tanveer Reply
can ringworm be caused by bacterium
fred Reply
Nope
ejikeme
Branches of biology
Tanveer
no it does not occurs by bacterium
gopal
what is a brick?
Istifanus Reply
what is gene in biology?
yousaf Reply
it is a heredity unit
Me
what is DNA
yousaf Reply
carrier of genetic information
missy
deoxyribonucleic acid
gopal
it contains genetic information and brings it to one generation to other
gopal
it is of two Types circular DNA and linear DNA
gopal
plasmids are the type of small circular DNA which lies outside the genomic DNA
gopal
And what makes a virus to be difficult to destroy
Mosongo
what observation is made when dry seeds and soaked seeds are put in a vacuum flask
Robin Reply
there is respiration from the soak seeds which shows on the walls of the vacuum flask
Israel
what's mammals ?
Istifanus Reply
mammals are vertebrates ,any member group of vertebrates animals in which the young are nourished with milk from special mammary glands of the mother.
yousaf
what are actin and myosin
Praveen Reply
they are muscle filaments
Israel
they make up the microfibrils of the muscle ,relaxing and contracting to cause movement
Israel
Please did anybody know the questions that will come out in the coming practical?
Oladimeji
Why it is importantthat there are different types of protein in plasma membraine for the transport materials into and out of a cell?
Louellie Reply
the nerve cell
Mustapha Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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