Eukaryotic cells are about 10 times the size of a typical prokaryote and can be as much as 1000 times greater in volume. The major difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is that eukaryotic cells contain membrane-bound compartments in which specific metabolic activities take place. Most important among these is the presence of a cell nucleus, a membrane-delineated compartment that houses the eukaryotic cell's DNA. It is this nucleus that gives the eukaryote its name, which means "true nucleus". Other differences include:
- The plasma membrane resembles that of prokaryotes in function, with minor differences in the setup. Cell walls may or may not be present.
- The eukaryotic DNA is organized in one or more linear molecules, called chromosomes, which are associated with histone proteins. All chromosomal DNA is stored in the cell nucleus, separated from the cytoplasm by a membrane. Some eukaryotic organelles also contain some DNA.
- Eukaryotes can move using cilia or flagella. The flagella are more complex than those of prokaryotes.
Prokaryotic cellsProkaryotes differ from eukaryotes since they lack of a nuclear membrane and a cell nucleus. Prokaryotes also lack most of the intracellular organelles and structures that are seen in eukaryotic cells. There are flagella — proteins attached to the cell surface; a and pilicell envelope - consisting of a capsule, a cell wall, and a plasma membrane; and a cytoplasmic region that contains the cell genome (DNA) and ribosomes and various sorts of inclusions. Other differences include:
- The plasma membrane (a phospholipid bilayer) separates the interior of the cell from its environment and serves as a filter and communications beacon.
- Most prokaryotes have a cell wall (some exceptions are Mycoplasma (bacteria) and Thermoplasma (archaea)). This wall consists of peptidoglycan in bacteria, and acts as an additional barrier against exterior forces. It also prevents the cell from "exploding" (cytolysis) from osmotic pressure against a hypotonic environment. A cell wall is also present in some eukaryotes like plants (cellulose) and fungi, but has a different chemical composition.
- A prokaryotic chromosome is usually a circular molecule (an exception is that of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease). Even without a real nucleus, the DNA is condensed in a nucleoid. Prokaryotes can carry extrachromosomal DNA elements called plasmids, which are usually circular. Plasmids can carry additional functions, such as antibiotic resistance.