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Turgor Pressure

Turgor Pressure Definition

Turgor pressure is the force exerted by stored water against a cell wall. Fungi, protists, bacteria, and plants all secrete various extracellular molecules form together to create a solid wall on the outside of their cells. As water fills the cells, it pushes against the cell membrane and cell wall, producing turgor pressure. While the cell walls of bacteria and protist cells simply keep the cells from exploding in a hypotonic environment, multi-celled organisms like fungi and plants use their turgor pressure to create various forms.

Plants and fungi regulate the turgor pressure in their cells by directing water into specialized vacuoles. The vacuoles are hypertonic to the cytoplasm, so they draw water out of the cytoplasm. This allows the concentration of the cytoplasm to stay consistent, while the water is continually moved into the cell. As turgor pressure builds in the vacuole, it pushes out against the sides of the cell. Each cell is assembled so their cell walls are pushed together. In this way, each cell in a plant becomes a water filled brick. The cells can be stacked to great heights. Plants can even turn their leaves and stems toward the sun by modifying the turgor pressure in their cells. If water is let out of the vacuole, the cell deflates. Even a few brick collapsing in a building allow gravity to pull the rest down. In the same way, by changing the turgor pressure of a small group of cells, plants can rotate, lift and otherwise move their parts.

To keep their turgor pressure, plants and fungi must keep their internal cells in a hypotonic environment. The increased concentration of solutes on the inside of the cell helps water move up the organism, and reach all the cells. Once all cells have sufficient turgor pressure, water is usually evaporated out of the leaves or from the surface of the organism to keep the flow of nutrients from the roots established. Animal cells typically try to avoid turgor pressure, because they do not secrete a cell wall to protect their cells from over-expanding and lysing, or breaking apart. Animals typically rely on a series of mechanisms that keeps their blood isotonic compared to their cells.

  • Turgid – When a cell has a high turgor pressure.
  • Osmosis – The diffusion of water through a membrane.
  • Vacuole – An organelle in eukaryotes designed to hold a substance, sometimes water to create turgor pressure.
  • Lysis – When a cell without a cell wall is destroyed by turgor pressure.


1. A human blood cell is suspended in a hypertonic solution. The water is drawn out of the cell, and the cell becomes plasmolyzed. A scientist adds some water to the solution, and the cell swells up. Normal processes resume in the cell and the cell membrane stays intact. Is this turgor pressure?
A. Yes
B. No
C. Only if blood cells have vacuoles to store water

Answer to Question #1
B is correct. This blood cell must exist in a relatively isotonic environment, otherwise it would lyse. Animal cells do not have any protection from the exposure to hypotonic environments, and would be destroyed. Turgor pressure is simply water pressure pushing on a cell wall. Bacteria, which are cells with no vacuoles or other organelles, also have turgor pressure when water rushes into their cells. The difference is that the enzymes in the bacteria’s cytoplasm must deal with the change in concentration. A vacuole allows the cytoplasmic concentration to remain stable while the vacuole is filled with water.

2. If you watch a field of sunflowers all day, you will notice that the flowers follow the sun, and the plants are continually readjusting to receive the best sunlight. What causes this movement?
A. Gravitational forces from the sun
B. Changes in turgor pressure of groups of cells
C. These are just random movements made by the wind

Answer to Question #2
B is correct. While the sun does do a lot for plants, it does not exert a huge gravitational force on them. Further, it has been seen that at night the plants orient themselves randomly and do not follow the sun. In the morning heliotropism causes the plants to orient themselves toward the sunlight. To do this, the turgor pressure of various groups of cells are changes, which weaken or strengthen various tissues in the plant. Much like the muscles of an animal, the small changes in each of these cells leads to large movements. If you still don’t think plants can move, go watch the amazing effects of turgor pressure in a local field.

3. A fish native to Australia and Indonesia is known for shooting a stream of water at insects that sit above the stream’s surface. To do this, the archer fish pressurizes the water in its mouth, shooting out a stream that can easily travel over 3 feet. Is this turgor pressure?
A. No
B. Yes
C. Only if the water is pressurized in the cells of the mouth

Answer to Question #3
A is correct. This is not turgor pressure. Turgor pressure is seen within cells, and this is simply the fish reducing the volume of its mouth. Since water cannot be compressed, the water is ejected from the mouth, the only escape route. The fish have evolved specially shaped gills and mouthparts to help create a stream that is both accurate and powerful. While the cells of the fish’s mouth may be specialized to withstand the external pressure, they experience no turgor pressure which is internal water pressure.