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At the end of this lab, students should know...
All cells share common features such as having a plasma membrane, a cytoplasm, DNA, and ribosomes. A plasma membrane is a phospholipid bilayer that surrounds the cell. Inside the plasma membrane, the cell is filled with a gel-like fluid called cytoplasm that contains organic molecules, salts, and other materials that are vital for the cell’s functions. All cells use DNA as the genetic material, which is the hereditary blueprint to construct cellular structures and products. Finally, all cells use ribosomes to synthesize their protein products.
There are two types of cells based on the location of their genetic material: prokaryotic and eukaryotic.
Prokaryotic cells are small in size and lack a distinct nucleus and organelles. Eukaryotic cells are relatively larger, contain a distinct nucleus, and various organelles with specialized functions.
Plant cells have chloroplasts, which are used for photosynthesis and often contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Additionally, they are surrounded by cell walls, which are rigid outer layers made of cellulose to support growth and water retention. Because they need to store large amounts of water to maintain the water pressure in the cell, they have larger vacuoles than animal cells. In addition, plant cells also have another type of specialized storage organelles called plastids, which contain pigments and photosynthetic products, such as starch.
Most cells are too small to see with the naked eye and can only be observed with a microscope. However, most cells are also transparent, therefore they first need to be stained selectively based on their molecular composition. Next, they are mounted on glass slides to be observed with a microscope.