Eukaryotic Cell

Cell Biology

Eukaryotic Cell Definition

Eukaryotic cells are cells that contain a nucleus and organelles, and are enclosed by a plasma membrane. Organisms that have eukaryotic cells include protozoa, fungi, plants and animals. These organisms are grouped into the biological domain Eukaryota. Eukaryotic cells are larger and more complex than prokaryotic cells, which are found in Archaea and Bacteria, the other two domains of life.

Characteristics of Eukaryotic Cells

Eukaryotic cells contain a variety of structures called organelles, which perform various functions within the cell. Examples of organelles are ribosomes, which make proteins, the endoplasmic reticulum, which sorts and packages the proteins, and mitochondria, which produce the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). They also have a true nucleus, which contains the genetic material DNA and is surrounded by a nuclear envelope. All of the organelles are stabilized and given physical support through the cytoskeleton, which is also involved in sending signals from one part of the cell to the other. In eukaryotic cells, the cytoskeleton is composed mainly of three types of filaments: microtubules, microfilaments, and intermediate filaments. The gel-like substance that surrounds all the organelles in the cell is called cytosol.

The figure below shows the structure of a eukaryotic cell; this is an animal cell. The nucleus and other organelles are shown. The cytosol is the blue substance surrounding all of the organelles. Together, the cytosol with all organelles besides the nucleus are grouped as cytoplasm.

Eukaryotic cell structure (animal)

Eukaryotic Cell Cycle

The cell cycle is the life cycle of a cell. During this cycle, it grows and divides. Checkpoints exist between all stages so that proteins can determine whether the cell is ready to begin the next phase of the cycle.

Quiescence (G0)

Quiescence, also known as senescence or resting, is a phase in which the cell is not actively dividing. It is also known as Gap 0, or G0. This stage is considered the start of the cell cycle, although it is one that cells can reach and then stop dividing indefinitely, which ends the cell cycle. Liver, stomach, kidney cells, and neuron are all examples of cells that can reach this stage and remain in it for long periods of time. It can also occur when a cell’s DNA is damaged. However, most cells do not go into the G0 stage at all, and can divide indefinitely throughout the life of an organism.


In interphase, the cell grows and takes in nutrients in preparation for division. Interphase takes up about 90 percent of the cell cycle. It consists of three parts: Gap 1, Synthesis, and Gap 2.

  • Gap 1 (G1) is also known as a growth phase. The cell gets larger and increases its stock of proteins, along with organelles such as the energy-producing mitochondria.
  • Synthesis (S) is the phase in which DNA replicates. During synthesis, the chromosomes replicate so that each chromosome is made up of two sister chromatids. At the end of this phase, there is double the amount of DNA in the cell.
  • Gap 2 (G2) is another growth phase. The cell becomes even larger in order to prepare for mitotic division.

Mitosis (M)

Mitosis, or M phase, is when the cell begins to organize its duplicated DNA for separation into two daughter cells. The chromosomes separate so that one of each chromosome goes into each daughter cell. This results in the daughter cells having identical chromosomes to the parent cell. Mitosis itself is divided into prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase, which mark various points in the DNA separation process. Mitosis is then followed by a process called cytokinesis, during which the cell separates its nuclei and other organelles in preparation for division and then physically divides into two cells.

Examples of Eukaryotic Cells

Plant Cells

Plant cells are unique among eukaryotic cells for several reasons. They have reinforced, relatively thick cell walls that are made mostly of cellulose and help maintain structural support in the plant. Each plant cell has a large vacuole in the center that allows it to maintain turgor pressure, which is pressure from having a lot of water in the cell and helps keep the plant upright. Plant cells also contain organelles called chloroplasts which contain the molecule chlorophyll. This important molecule is used in the process of photosynthesis, which is when a plant makes its own energy from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water.

Fungal Cells

Like plant cells, fungal cells also have a cell wall, but their cell wall is made of chitin (the same substance found in insect exoskeletons). Some fungi have septa, which are holes that allow organelles and cytoplasm to pass between them. This makes the boundaries between different cells less clear.

Animal Cells

Animal cells do not have cell walls. Instead, they have only a plasma membrane. The lack of a cell wall allows animal cells to form many different shapes, and allows for the processes of phagocytosis “cell eating” and pinocytosis “cell drinking” to occur. Animal cells differ from plant cells in that they do not have chloroplasts and have smaller vacuoles instead of a large central vacuole.


Protozoa are eukaryotic organisms that consist of a single cell. They can move around and eat, and they digest food in vacuoles. Some protozoa have many cilia, which are small “arms” that allow them to move around. Some also have a thin layer called a pellicle, which provides support to the cell membrane.

Related Biology Terms

  • Cell – The basic biological unit of living things; they can be either prokaryotic or eukaryotic.
  • Mitosis – Part of the cell cycle, it is the process by which a cell replicates itself.
  • Eukaryote – An organism whose cells are eukaryotic.
  • Organelles – Specialized structures inside cells that perform specific cell functions.


1. What are the three parts of interphase in the cell cycle?
A. Gap 1, Synthesis, Gap 2
B. Quiescence, Synthesis, Mitosis
C. Gap 1, Mitosis, Gap 2
D. Quiescence, Gap 1, Gap 2

Answer to Question #1

2. Which is a possible characteristic of a eukaryotic cell?
A. Having a cell wall made of cellulose
B. Having a cell wall made of chitin
C. Having no cell wall
D. All of the above are seen in eukaryotic cells

Answer to Question #2

3. What are the stages of the cell cycle in order?
A. G1, M, G2, S, G0
B. G0, G1, G2, S, M
C. G0, G1, S, G2, M
D. M, S, G2, G1, G0

Answer to Question #3

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