The Cell

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The cell is the fundamental structural unit of all living organisms. Some cells are complete organisms, such as the unicellular bacteria and protozoa; others, such as nerve, liver, and muscle cells, are specialized components of multi-cellular organisms. Cells range in size from the smallest bacteria-like mycoplasmas, which are 0.1 micrometer in diameter, to the egg yolks of ostriches, which are about 8 cm (about 3 in) in diameter. Although they may differ widely in appearance and function, all cells have a surrounding membrane and an internal, water-rich substance called the cytoplasm, the composition of which differs significantly from the external environment of the cell. Within the cell is genetic material, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), containing coded instructions for the behavior and reproduction of the cell and also the chemical machinery for the translation of these instructions into the manufacture of proteins. Viruses are not considered cells because they lack this translation machinery; they must parasitize cells in order to translate their own genetic code and reproduce themselves.
Cells are of two distinctly different types, prokaryotes and eukaryotes; thus, the living world is divided into two broad categories. The DNA of prokaryotes is a single molecule in direct contact with the cell cytoplasm, whereas the DNA of eukaryotes is much greater in amount and diversity and is contained within a nucleus separated from the cell cytoplasm by a membranous nuclear envelope. Many eukaryotic cells are further divided into compartments by internal membranes in addition to the nuclear envelope, whereas prokaryotic cells never contain completely internal membranes. The prokaryotes include the mycoplasmas, bacteria, and blue-green algae. The eukaryotes comprise all plant and animal cells. In general, plant cells differ from animal cells in that they have a rigid cell wall exterior to the plasma membrane; a large vacuole, or fluid-filled pouch; and chloroplasts

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