I. A Water Balloon in a Box
This is a good model for a plant cell. Thus, there are two major components to a plant cell:
A. The Box
This part of the cell is analogous to the cell wall. Like a cardboard box, the cell wall is relativelyrigid, it is non-living and highly structured. Its more obvious functions are to support and protect thecell. It is produced by the protoplast (see below).
If you stack up a bunch of boxes you generally can’t make a very large tower before it comescrashing down. Since a plant is essentially constructed of numerous small boxes, why don’t they fall
apart, too? The answer is glue! Plants glue their cells together with pectic polysaccharides. Thesecarbohydrates, which make up the outermost layer of the plant cell wall (called the middle lamella),bind adjacent cells together. Cooks use pectins extracted from the middle lamella to solidify jams andjellies.
Pores or air spaces (called intercellular spaces) exist between adjacent cells because of thedifficulty of packing of cells with rigid walls. Try and squeeze a bunch of irregularly boxes into a roomwithout leaving any space between them! The intercellular spaces are important for gas exchange andwater transport, some movements (
sensitive plants - water moves into/out of theses spaces;nyctinastic movements - sleep movements) and freezing protection
., water moves out of cells intothe spaces to minimize cellular damage on freezing. Trivia note: prized ginseng roots have atranslucent appearance - apparently obtained by freezing).
Putting a cell in a box presents one major problem - how do cells talk to one another since they arenow effectively isolated in their own small compartment? Plants solved this problem by puttingwindows in the box! Or in other words, there are lots of specialized pores through the wall calledplasmodesmata that provide a cytoplasmic connection ("cytoplasmic bridges") between adjacent plantcells. Thus, the cytoplasm of a plant is essentially contiguous throughout the entire plant. Imaginehopping on board a tiny submarine like in the films
. You can essentiallytravel from cell-to-cell throughout the plant without ever leaving the cytoplasm nor crossing any cellmembranes. Cool!
The plasmodesmata are 40-50 nm in diameter. The maximum sized object that can pass through asa molecular mass of 700-1000 daltons, which is equivalent to a molecule 1.5 - 2.0 nm. Theplasmodesmata have a unique structure. The plasma membranes from adjacent cells are continuousthrough the pore. In addition, the ER (see below) is also continuous between adjacent cells. Thenarrow tubule of ER is called the desmotubule and in the center there may be dark staining rod (calledthen "central rod"). The cytoplasmic channel between desmotubule and membrane is called the"cytoplasmic sleeve." Protein fibers radiate from the desmotubule to the membrane like spokes on abicycle. These fibers may act like a sieve or screen. Plasmodesmata are aggregated in pits and thereare 1-15 per mm
. They can make up as much as 1% of the cell surface. Plasmodesmata are formedduring cell division (see cell notes) or secondarily after division. They may or may not be branched,too.
B. The water balloon - this is analogous to the protoplast. The protoplast is everything inside the cellwall. It is the "living" part of the cell and includes:
cytosol - matrix in which the other cell components are embedded;
nucleus - the cell brain;
vacuole - membrane bound storage pool;
assorted organelles; and