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A Tour of the Cell

light microscope (LM)

an optical instrument with lenses that refract visible light to magnify images and project them into a viewer's eye or onto photographic film


a photograph taken through a microscope

cell theory

the theory that all living things are composed of cells and that all cells come from other cells

electron microscope (EM)

a microscope that uses magnets to focus an electron beam through or onto the surface of a specimen

scanning electron microscope (SEM)

a microscope that uses an electron beam to study the fine details of cell surfaces or other specimens

transmission electron microscope (TEM)

a microscope that uses an electron beam to study the internal structure of thinly sectioned specimens

plasma membrane

the membrane at the boundary of every cell that acts as a selective barrier to the passage of ions and molecules into and out of the cell; consists of a phospholipid bilayer with embedded proteins

prokaryotic cells

a type of cell lacking a membrane-enclosed nucleus and other membrane-enclosed organelles; only found in the domains Bacteria and Archaea

eukaryotic cells

a type of cell that has a membrane-enclosed nucleus and other membrane-enclosed organelles


a threadlike, gene-carrying structure found in the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell and most visible during mitosis and meiosis; the main gene carrying structure of a prokaryotic cell


polypeptide (protein) synthesis


the contents of a eukaryotic cell between the plasma membrane and the nucleus


a dense region of DNA in a prokaryotic cell


a long cellular appendage specialized for locomotion, like cilia it has a 9+2 arrangement of microtubules covered by the cell's plasma membrane


a membrane-enclosed structure with a specialized function within a cell

cellular metabolism

all the chemical activities of a cell


DNA replication, RNA synthesis; assembly of ribosomal subunits


the combination of DNA and proteins that constitutes eukaryotic chromosomes; often used to refer to the diffuse, very extended form taken by chromosomes when a cell is not dividing

nuclear envelope

a double membrane that encloses the nucleus, perforated with pores that regulate traffic with the cytoplasm


a structure within the nucleus where ribosomal RNA is made and assembles with proteins imported from the cytoplasm to make ribosomal subunits

endomembrane system

a network of membranes inside and around a eukaryotic cell, related either through direct physical contact or by the transfer of membranous vesicles


a sac made of membrane in the cytoplasm of a eukaryotic cell

endoplasmic reticulum (ER)

an extensive membranous network in a eukaryotic cell, continuous with the outer nuclear membrane and composed of ribosome-studded (rough) and ribosome-free (smooth) regions

smooth endoplasmic reticulum

lipid synthesis; detoxification in liver cells; calcium ion storage

rough endoplasmic reticulum

synthesis of membrane lipids and proteins, secretory proteins and hydrolytic enzymes


a protein with one or more short chains of sugars attached to it

transport vesicle

a small membranous sac in a eukaryotic cell's cytoplasm carrying molecules produced by the cell

golgi apparatus

modification and sorting of macromolecules; formation of lysosomes and transport vesicle


digestion of ingested food, bacteria and a cell's damaged organelles and macromolecules for recycling


digestion (food); storage of chemicals and cell enlargement (central); water balance (contractile)

central vacuole

in a plant cell, a large membranous sac with diverse roles in growth and the storage of chemicals and wastes


diverse metabolic processes, with breakdown of toxic hydrogen peroxide by-product


conversion of chemical energy in food to chemical energy of ATP

mitochondrial matrix

the compartment of the mitochondrion enclosed by the inner membrane and containing enzymes and substrates for the citric acid cycle


an infolding of the inner mitochondrial membrane


conversion of light energy to chemical energy of sugars


the dense fluid within the chloroplast that surrounds the thylakoid membrane and is involved in the synthesis of organic molecule from CO2 and water


a flattened membranous sac inside a chloroplast; it contains chlorophyll and the molecular complexes of the light reactions of photosynthesis


a stack of membrane-bounded thylakoids in a chloroplast; the site where light energy is trapped by chlorophyll and converted to chemical energy during light reactions of photosynthesis

endosymbiont theory

a theory that mitochondria and chloroplasts originated as prokaryotic cells engulfed by an ancestral eukaryotic cell; the engulfed cell and its host cell then evolved into a single organism


maintenance of cell shape; anchorage for organelles; movement of organelles within cells; cell movement


the thinnest of the three main kinds of protein fibers making up the cytoskeleton of a eukaryotic cell; a solid, helical rod composed of the globular protein actin

intermediate filaments

an intermediate-size protein fiber that is one of the three main kinds of fibers making up the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic cells


the thickest of the three main kinds of fibers making up the cytoskeleton of a eukaryotic cell; a hollow tube made of globular proteins called tublins


a short cellular appendage specialized for locomotion, formed from a core of nine outer doublet microtubules and two single microtubules covered by the cell's plasma membrane

extracellular matrix (ECM)

support; regulation of cellular activities; the mesh-work surrounding animal cells


a transmembrane protein that interconnects the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton

cell wall

support and protection; binding of cells in tissues


an open channel in a plant cell wall through which strands of cytoplasm connect from adjacent cells

cell junctions

communication between cells; binding of cells in tissues

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