Prokaryotes are single-celled organisms that are the earliest and most primitive forms of life on earth. As organized in the Three Domain System
, prokaryotes include bacteria and archaeans
. Prokaryotes are able to live and thrive in various types of environments including extreme habitats such as hydrothermal vents, hot springs, swamps, wetlands, and the guts of animals.
Prokaryotic Cell Structure
Prokaryotic cells are not as complex as eukaryotic cells
. They have no true nucleus as the DNA is not contained within a membrane or separated from the rest of the cell, but is coiled up in a region of the cytoplasm called the nucleoid. Using bacteria as our sample prokaryote, the following structures can be found in bacterial cells:
- Capsule - Found in some bacterial cells, this additional outer covering protects the cell when it is engulfed by other organisms, assists in retaining moisture, and helps the cell adhere to surfaces and nutrients.
- Cell Wall - Outer covering of most cells that protects the bacterial cell and gives it shape.
- Cytoplasm - A gel-like substance composed mainly of water that also contains enzymes, salts, cell components, and various organic molecules.
- Cell Membrane or Plasma Membrane - Surrounds the cell's cytoplasm and regulates the flow of substances in and out of the cell.
- Pili - Hair-like structures on the surface of the cell that attach to other bacterial cells. Shorter pili called fimbriae help bacteria attach to surfaces.
- Flagella - Long, whip-like protrusion that aids in cellular locomotion.
- Ribosomes - Cell structures responsible for protein production.
- Plasmids - Gene carrying, circular DNA structures that are not involved in reproduction.
- Nucleiod Region - Area of the cytoplasm that contains the single bacterial DNA molecule.