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Concept in action

Watch a video showing the Director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA discussing the implications that the existence extremophiles on Earth have on the possibility of finding life on other planets in our solar system, such as Mars.


Until a couple of decades ago, microbiologists thought of prokaryotes as isolated entities living apart. This model, however, does not reflect the true ecology of prokaryotes, most of which prefer to live in communities where they can interact. A biofilm    is a microbial community held together in a gummy-textured matrix, consisting primarily of polysaccharides secreted by the organisms, together with some proteins and nucleic acids. Biofilms grow attached to surfaces. Some of the best-studied biofilms are composed of prokaryotes, although fungal biofilms have also been described.

Biofilms are present almost everywhere. They cause the clogging of pipes and readily colonize surfaces in industrial settings. They have played roles in recent, large-scale outbreaks of bacterial contamination of food. Biofilms also colonize household surfaces, such as kitchen counters, cutting boards, sinks, and toilets.

Interactions among the organisms that populate a biofilm, together with their protective environment, make these communities more robust than are free-living, or planktonic, prokaryotes. Overall, biofilms are very difficult to destroy, because they are resistant to many of the common forms of sterilization.

Characteristics of prokaryotes

There are many differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. However, all cells have four common structures: a plasma membrane that functions as a barrier for the cell and separates the cell from its environment; cytoplasm, a jelly-like substance inside the cell; genetic material (DNA and RNA); and ribosomes, where protein synthesis takes place. Prokaryotes come in various shapes, but many fall into three categories: cocci (spherical), bacilli (rod-shaped), and spirilla (spiral-shaped) ( [link] ).

Scanning electron micrograph a shows ball-shaped cocci. Scanning electron micrograph b shows rod-shaped bacilli. Scanning electron micrograph c shows corkscrew-shaped spirilla.
Many prokaryotes fall into three basic categories based on their shape: (a) cocci, or spherical; (b) bacilli, or rod-shaped; and (c) spirilla, or spiral-shaped. (credit a: modification of work by Janice Haney Carr, Dr. Richard Facklam, CDC; credit c: modification of work by Dr. David Cox, CDC; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The prokaryotic cell

Recall that prokaryotes ( [link] ) are unicellular organisms that lack organelles surrounded by membranes. Therefore, they do not have a nucleus but instead have a single chromosome—a piece of circular DNA located in an area of the cell called the nucleoid. Most prokaryotes have a cell wall lying outside the plasma membrane. The composition of the cell wall differs significantly between the domains Bacteria and Archaea (and their cell walls also differ from the eukaryotic cell walls found in plants and fungi.) The cell wall functions as a protective layer and is responsible for the organism’s shape. Some other structures are present in some prokaryotic species, but not in others. For example, the capsule    found in some species enables the organism to attach to surfaces and protects it from dehydration. Some species may also have flagella (singular, flagellum) used for locomotion, and pili (singular, pilus) used for attachment to surfaces and to other bacteria for conjugation. Plasmids, which consist of small, circular pieces of DNA outside of the main chromosome, are also present in many species of bacteria.

Questions & Answers

how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
Amina Reply
why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
what is cell
Zulf Reply
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
Meenakshi Reply
anatomy of gymnosperms
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content
how many times breathing a day normally does a person have
Vernalyn Reply
on average 18000 times a day when resting.
the -10 and -35 regions of prokaryotic promoters are called consensus sequences because
Michelle Reply
Oogenesis is the process that produces sperm
Kelly Reply
no... thats is egg production
that is egg production
what is the nephrons
Kalim Reply
what is the DNA and how to work
nephrons are functional units of kidney.
a picture of a diktiosoom
Zandri Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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