The distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is considered to be the most important distinction among groups of organisms. Eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound organelles, such as the nucleus, while prokaryotic cells do not. Differences in cellular structure of prokaryotes and eukaryotes include the presence of mitochondria and chloroplasts, the cell wall, and the structure of chromosomal DNA.

Prokaryotes were the only form of life on Earth for millions of years until more complicated eukaryotic cells came into being through the process of evolution.

Comparison chart

Eukaryotic Cell versus Prokaryotic Cell comparison chart
Eukaryotic CellProkaryotic Cell
Nucleus Present Absent
Number of chromosomes More than one One--but not true chromosome: Plasmids
Cell Type Usually multicellular Usually unicellular (some cyanobacteria may be multicellular)
True Membrane bound Nucleus Present Absent
Example Animals and Plants Bacteria and Archaea
Genetic Recombination Meiosis and fusion of gametes Partial, undirectional transfers DNA
Lysosomes and peroxisomes Present Absent
Microtubules Present Absent or rare
Endoplasmic reticulum Present Absent
Mitochondria Present Absent
Cytoskeleton Present May be absent
DNA wrapping on proteins. Eukaryotes wrap their DNA around proteins called histones. Multiple proteins act together to fold and condense prokaryotic DNA. Folded DNA is then organized into a variety of conformations that are supercoiled and wound around tetramers of the HU protein.
Ribosomes larger smaller
Vesicles Present Present
Golgi apparatus Present Absent
Chloroplasts Present (in plants) Absent; chlorophyll scattered in the cytoplasm
Flagella Microscopic in size; membrane bound; usually arranged as nine doublets surrounding two singlets Submicroscopic in size, composed of only one fiber
Permeability of Nuclear Membrane Selective not present
Plasma membrane with steroid Yes Usually no
Cell wall Only in plant cells and fungi (chemically simpler) Usually chemically complexed
Vacuoles Present Present
Cell size 10-100um 1-10um

Definition of eukaryotes and prokaryotes

Prokaryotes (pro-KAR-ee-ot-es) (from Old Greek pro- before + karyon nut or kernel, referring to the cell nucleus, + suffix -otos, pl. -otes; also spelled "procaryotes") are organisms without a cell nucleus (= karyon), or any other membrane-bound organelles. Most are unicellular, but some prokaryotes are multicellular.

Eukaryotes (IPA: [juːˈkæɹɪɒt]) are organisms whose cells are organized into complex structures by internal membranes and a cytoskeleton. The most characteristic membrane bound structure is the nucleus. This feature gives them their name, (also spelled "eucaryote,") which comes from the Greek ευ, meaning good/true, and κάρυον, meaning nut, referring to the nucleus. Animals, plants, fungi, and protists are eukaryotes.

Differences Between Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic Cells

The difference between the structure of prokaryotes and eukaryotes is so great that it is considered to be the most important distinction among groups of organisms.

Structure and contents of a typical Gram-positive bacterium cell (a prokaryotic cell)
Structure and contents of a typical Gram-positive bacterium cell (a prokaryotic cell)



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