The Prokaryotic Cell
Recall that prokaryotes are unicellular organisms that lack membrane-bound organelles or other internal membrane-bound structures (Figure). Their chromosome—usually single—consists of a piece of circular, double-stranded DNA located in an area of the cell called the nucleoid. Most prokaryotes have a cell wall outside the plasma membrane. The cell wall functions as a protective layer, and it is responsible for the organism’s shape. Some bacterial species have a capsule outside the cell wall. The capsule enables the organism to attach to surfaces, protects it from dehydration and attack by phagocytic cells, and makes pathogens more resistant to our immune responses. Some species also have flagella (singular, flagellum) used for locomotion, and pili (singular, pilus) used for attachment to surfaces including the surfaces of other cells. Plasmids, which consist of extra-chromosomal DNA, are also present in many species of bacteria and archaea.
Recall that prokaryotes are divided into two different domains, Bacteria and Archaea, which together with Eukarya, comprise the three domains of life (Figure).
Characteristics of bacterial phyla are described in Figure and Figure. Major bacterial phyla include the Proteobacteria, the Chlamydias, the Spirochaetes, the photosynthetic Cyanobacteria, and the Gram-positive bacteria. The Proteobacteria are in turn subdivided into several classes, from the Alpha- to the Epsilon proteobacteria. Eukaryotic mitochondria are thought to be the descendants of alphaproteobacteria, while eukaryotic chloroplasts are derived from cyanobacteria. Archaeal phyla are described in Figure.
The Plasma Membrane of Prokaryotes
The prokaryotic plasma membrane is a thin lipid bilayer (6 to 8 nanometers) that completely surrounds the cell and separates the inside from the outside. Its selectively permeable nature keeps ions, proteins, and other molecules within the cell and prevents them from diffusing into the extracellular environment, while other molecules may move through the membrane. Recall that the general structure of a cell membrane is a phospholipid bilayer composed of two layers of lipid molecules. In archaeal cell membranes, isoprene (phytanyl) chains linked to glycerol replace the fatty acids linked to glycerol in bacterial membranes. Some archaeal membranes are lipid monolayers instead of bilayers (Figure).
The Cell Wall of Prokaryotes
The cytoplasm of prokaryotic cells has a high concentration of dissolved solutes. Therefore, the osmotic pressure within the cell is relatively high. The cell wall is a protective layer that surrounds some cells and gives them shape and rigidity. It is located outside the cell membrane and prevents osmotic lysis (bursting due to increasing volume). The chemical composition of the cell wall varies between Archaea and Bacteria, and also varies between bacterial species.
Bacterial cell walls contain peptidoglycan, composed of polysaccharide chains that are cross-linked by unusual peptides containing both L- and D-amino acids including D-glutamic acid and D-alanine. (Proteins normally have only L-amino acids; as a consequence, many of our antibiotics work by mimicking D-amino acids and therefore have specific effects on bacterial cell-wall development.) There are more than 100 different forms of peptidoglycan. S-layer (surface layer) proteins are also present on the outside of cell walls of both Archaea and Bacteria.
Bacteria are divided into two major groups: Gram positive and Gram negative, based on their reaction to Gram staining. Note that all Gram-positive bacteria belong to one phylum; bacteria in the other phyla (Proteobacteria, Chlamydias, Spirochetes, Cyanobacteria, and others) are Gram-negative. The Gram staining method is named after its inventor, Danish scientist Hans Christian Gram (1853–1938). The different bacterial responses to the staining procedure are ultimately due to cell wall structure. Gram-positive organisms typically lack the outer membrane found in Gram-negative organisms (Figure). Up to 90 percent of the cell-wall in Gram-positive bacteria is composed of peptidoglycan, and most of the rest is composed of acidic substances called teichoic acids. Teichoic acids may be covalently linked to lipids in the plasma membrane to form lipoteichoic acids. Lipoteichoic acids anchor the cell wall to the cell membrane. Gram-negative bacteria have a relatively thin cell wall composed of a few layers of peptidoglycan (only 10 percent of the total cell wall), surrounded by an outer envelope containing lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and lipoproteins. This outer envelope is sometimes referred to as a second lipid bilayer. The chemistry of this outer envelope is very different, however, from that of the typical lipid bilayer that forms plasma membranes.
Which of the following statements is true?
- Gram-positive bacteria have a single cell wall anchored to the cell membrane by lipoteichoic acid.
- Porins allow entry of substances into both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria.
- The cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria is thick, and the cell wall of Gram-positive bacteria is thin.
- Gram-negative bacteria have a cell wall made of peptidoglycan, whereas Gram-positive bacteria have a cell wall made of lipoteichoic acid.
Archaean cell walls do not have peptidoglycan. There are four different types of archaean cell walls. One type is composed of pseudopeptidoglycan, which is similar to peptidoglycan in morphology but contains different sugars in the polysaccharide chain. The other three types of cell walls are composed of polysaccharides, glycoproteins, or pure protein. Other differences between Bacteria and Archaea are seen in Table. Note that features related to DNA replication, transcription and translation in Archaea are similar to those seen in eukaryotes.
|Differences and Similarities between Bacteria and Archaea|
|Cell wall||Contains peptidoglycan||Does not contain peptidoglycan|
|Cell membrane type||Lipid bilayer||Lipid bilayer or lipid monolayer|
|Plasma membrane lipids||Fatty acids-glycerol ester||Phytanyl-glycerol ethers|
|Chromosome||Typically circular||Typically circular|