Cell Structure

14 Introduction

(a) Nasal sinus cells (viewed with a light microscope), (b) onion cells (viewed with a light microscope), and (c) Vibrio tasmaniensis bacterial cells (seen through a scanning electron microscope) are from very different organisms, yet all share certain basic cell structure characteristics. (credit a: modification of work by Ed Uthman, MD; credit b: modification of work by Umberto Salvagnin; credit c: modification of work by Anthony D’Onofrio, William H. Fowle, Eric J. Stewart, and Kim Lewis of the Lewis Lab at Northeastern University; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)


Part a: Human cheek cells as viewed by light microscopy have an irregular round shape and a well-defined nucleus that takes up about one-half of the cell. Part b: Onion skin cells, also viewed by light microscopy, are long and thin with a rectangular shape defined by a cell wall. They are about as wide as a cheek cell, but at least five times as long. The cell wall and nucleus are well defined in the micrograph. The onion cell nucleus is about the same size as the cheek cell nucleus. Part c: In this scanning electron micrograph of bacterial cells, the cell surface has a three-dimensional shape. Three of the bacteria are oval in shape. The fourth is round and has protrusions called pili. One pilus connects this bacterium to another.

Close your eyes and picture a brick wall. What is the wall’s basic building block? It is a single brick. Like a brick wall, cells are the building blocks that make up your body.

Your body has many kinds of cells, each specialized for a specific purpose. Just as we use a variety of materials to build a home, the human body is constructed from many cell types. For example, epithelial cells protect the body’s surface and cover the organs and body cavities within. Bone cells help to support and protect the body. Immune system cells fight invading bacteria. Additionally, blood and blood cells carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body while removing carbon dioxide. Each of these cell types plays a vital role during the body’s growth, development, and day-to-day maintenance. In spite of their enormous variety, however, cells from all organisms—even ones as diverse as bacteria, onion, and human—share certain fundamental characteristics.

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Introduction by OpenStax Biology 2nd Edition is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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