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Eukaryotic Cell - Physical Characteristics

cells micrometers diameter cytoplasm

A typical eukaryotic cell is about 25 micrometers in diameter, but this average hides a large range of sizes. The smallest cell is a type of green algae, Ostreococcus tauri, with a diameter of only 0.8 micrometers, about the size of a typical bacterium. The human sperm is about 4 micrometers wide, but 40 micrometers long, while the egg is about 100 micrometers in diameter. Single neurons can be a meter or more in length. While schematic diagrams often picture cells as simple cubes or spheres, most cells have highly individual shapes. Human red blood cells are flattened disks indented on either side; muscle cells are highly elongated; neurons are long and thin with many branches on each end; and white blood cells constantly change their shapes as they crawl through the body.

Cells are also often depicted as a bag of fluid with a smattering of structures within, but this is far from the truth. Instead, the interior of the cell is a dense network of structural proteins, collectively termed the cytoskeleton, within which is embedded a large collection of organelles. The material within the cell except for the nucleus is called the cytoplasm. The nonorganelle portion of the cytoplasm is called the cytosol. The consistency of the cytoplasm is much like egg white, and not at all like freely flowing water.

Eukaryotic Cell - Membranes [next]

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