Life begins with cells

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A single ~200 micrometer (mm) cell, the human egg, with sperm, which are also single cells. From the union of an egg and sperm will arise the 10 trillion cells of a human body.
[Photo Researchers.]

ike ourselves, the individual cells that form our bodies can grow, reproduce, process information, respond to stimuli, and carry out an amazing array of chemicalreactions. These abilities define life. We and other multicellular organisms contain billions or trillions of cells organized into complex structures, but many organisms consist of a single cell. Even simple unicellular organisms exhibit all the hallmark properties of life, indicating that the cell is the fundamental unit of life. As the twenty-first century opens, we face an explosion of new data aboutthe components of cells, what structures they contain, how they touch and influence each other. Still, an immense amount remains to be learned, particularly about how information flows through cells and how they decide on the most appropriate ways to respond. Molecular cell biology is a rich, integrative science that brings together biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology, microscopy, genetics,physiology, and developmental biology. Each of these fields has its own emphasis and style of experimentation. In the following chapters, we will describe insights and experimental approaches drawn from all of these fields, gradually weaving the multifaceted story of the birth, life, and death of cells. We start in this prologue chapter by introducing the diversity of cells, their basicconstituents and critical functions, and what we can learn from the various ways of studying cells.


1.1 The Diversity and Commonality of Cells
Cells come in an amazing variety of sizes and shapes (Figure 1-1). Some move rapidly and have fast-changing structures, as we can see in movies of amoebae and rotifers. Others are largely stationary and structurally stable. Oxygen kills some cells but is anabsolute requirement for others. Most cells in multicellular organisms are intimately involved with other cells. Although some unicellular organisms live in isolation, others form colonies or live in close association with other types of organisms, such as the bacteria that help plants to extract nitrogen from the air or the bacteria that live in our intestines and help us digest food. Despitethese and numerous

OUTLINE 1.1 The Diversity and Commonality of Cells 1.2 The Molecules of a Cell 1.3 The Work of Cells 1.4 Investigating Cells and Their Parts 1.5 A Genome Perspective on Evolution 1


CHAPTER 1 • Life Begins with Cells









▲ FIGURE 1-1 Cells come in an astounding assortment of shapes and sizes. Some of themorphological variety of cells is illustrated in these photographs. In addition to morphology, cells differ in their ability to move, internal organization (prokaryotic versus eukaryotic cells), and metabolic activities. (a) Eubacteria; note dividing cells. These are Lactococcus lactis, which are used to produce cheese such as Roquefort, Brie, and Camembert. (b) A mass of archaebacteria (Methanosarcina) thatproduce their energy by converting carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas to methane. Some species that live in the rumen of cattle give rise to >150 liters of methane gas/day. (c) Blood cells, shown in false color. The red blood cells are oxygen-bearing erythrocytes, the white blood cells (leukocytes) are part of the immune system and fight infection, and the green cells are platelets that providesubstances to make blood clot at a wound. (d) Large single cells: fossilized dinosaur eggs. (e) A colonial single-celled green alga, Volvox aureus. The large spheres are made up of many individual cells, visible as blue or green dots. The yellow masses inside are daughter colonies, each made up of many cells. (f) A single
other differences, all cells share certain structural features and carry out...
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