Prokaryotes vs. Eukaryotes: Comparing the different types of cells

1. Prokaryotes and eukaryotes differ in size and the presence of a membrane-bound nucleus

3d renderings of an animal cell and a bacterial cell with internal structures

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Prokaryotic cell

The DNA in a prokaryotic cell is usually located in a region called the nucleoid.

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Prokaryotic cells comprise bacteria and archaea. They typically have a diameter of 0.1–5 μm, and their DNA is not contained within a nucleus. Instead, their DNA is circular and can be found in a region called the nucleoid, which floats in the cytoplasm. Prokaryotes are organisms that consist of a single prokaryotic cell.


Eukaryotic cells are found in plants, animals, fungi, and protists. They range from 10–100 μm in diameter, and their DNA is contained within a membrane-bound nucleus. Eukaryotes are organisms containing eukaryotic cells.

 

Prokaryotic Cells

Eukaryotic Cells

Nucleus?

No

Yes

DNA arrangement

Circular

Linear

Size (diameter)

0.1–5 μm

10–100 μm

Unicellular?

Always

Sometimes

Multicellular?

Never

Usually

2. Plant and animal cells show us that eukaryotic cells are diverse

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Eukaryotic cell (plant)

The DNA in eukaryotic cells is located within a membrane-bound nucleus.

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A comparison of plant and animal cells shows that even though eukaryotic cells have membrane-bound nuclei and organelles that carry out many similar functions, they are not all the same.

3d renderings of a plant cell and an animal cell with internal structures

For example, while animal cells use glucose from the animal’s food to carry out cellular respiration, plant cells are specialized to make their own glucose using photosynthesis. The plant cell’s chloroplasts are key to this process of using light to create food.


Animal and plant cells are both supported by a cytoskeleton and plasma membrane. In addition to these structures, plant cells have a supportive cell wall, which is not present in animal cells. Plant cells also have a large central vacuole that supports them. Both plants and animal cells use numerous small vesicles to contain waste, transport materials, and perform many other functions.

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External Sources

A review of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells from Khan Academy.