Vacuole

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A vacuole is a membrane-bound organelle which is present in all plant and fungal cells and some protist, animal[1] and bacterial cells.[2] Vacuoles are essentially enclosed compartments which are filled with water containing inorganic and organic molecules including enzymes in solution, though in certain cases they may contain solids which have been engulfed. Vacuoles are formed by the fusion of multiple membrane vesicles and are effectively just larger forms of these.[3] The organelle has no basic shape or size, its structure varies according to the needs of the cell.

The function and importance of vacuoles varies greatly according to the type of cell in which they are present, having much greater prominence in the cells of plants, fungi and certain protists than those of animals and bacteria. In general, the functions of the vacuole include:

  • Isolating materials that might be harmful or a threat to the cell
  • Containing waste products
  • containing water in plant cells
  • Maintaining internal hydrostatic pressure or turgor within the cell
  • Maintaining an acidic internal pH
  • Containing small molecules
  • Exporting unwanted substances from the cell
  • Allows plants to support structures such as leaves and flowers due to the pressure of the central vacuole
  • In seeds, stored proteins needed for germination are kept in 'protein bodies', which are modified vacuoles.[4]

Vacuoles also play a major role in autophagy, maintaining a balance between biogenesis (production) and degradation (or turnover), of many substances and cell structures in certain organisms. They also aid in the lysis and recycling of misfolded proteins that have begun to build up within the cell. Thomas Boller [2]and others proposed that the vacuole participates in the destruction of invading bacteria and Robert B Mellor proposed organ-specific forms have a role in 'housing' symbiotic bacteria. In protists, vacuoles have the additional function of storing food which has been absorbed by the organism and assisting in the digestive and waste management process for the cell.[5]

Contents

Bacteria

Large vacuoles are found in three genera of filamentous sulfur bacteria, the Thioploca, Beggiatoa and Thiomargarita. The cytocol is extremely reduced in these genera and the vacuole can occupy between 40-98% of the cell.[6] The vacuoles contain high concentrations of nitrate ions and is therefore thought to be a storage organelle.[2]

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