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Fundamental Unit of Life - Class 9 Science Notes


What is a cell?

A cell is considered as the building block of life. All living organisms are composed of these microscopic units and it is therefore considered as the basic functional and structural unit of all life.

Cytology It is the study of cells . Cells have been studied since a long time now and many

scientists have contributed to the knowledge pool of different types of cells.

Staining of Cells: Cells can be studied under microscopes by staining them so that we can differentiate between different sections of the cell. According to their chemical composition different regions of cells get coloured differentially.

Common Stains Used: Iodine, Saffranin, Methylene Blue.

In 1665, Robert Hooke observed through his self designed primitive microscope a thin slice of cork.

Cork is a substance that comes from bark of the tree.

Hooke observed that the structure looked like that of a honeycomb consisting of many little

compartments. He called these compartments ‘cells’ which means ‘a little room’ in Latin.

Who Discovered the First Living Cell?

The first living cell from pond water was discovered by Leeuwenhoek in 1674, with the help of improved microscope.

What is the cell theory and who gave it?

It was presented by two biologists Schleiden and Schwann. It was further expanded by Virchow who suggested that all living cells arise from preexisting cell as they divide to produce cells of their own kind.

Cell theory states that:

(i) All living organisms whether plants or animals are composed of cells.

(ii) Cell is the basic unit of life.

(iii) All cells arise from pre-existing cells (expanded by Virchow).

Viruses however are an exception to the cell theory.

Timeline of Cytology

-1665: Robert Hooke observed cork cells through primitive microscope.

-1674: Leeuwenhoek discovered first living from pond water through improved microscope. -1831: Robert Brown discovered Nucleus.

-1839: Purkinje coined the term ‘Protoplasm’ for the fluid substance in the cell.

-1838-39: Cell Theory by Schleiden and Schwann.

-1855: Cell theory further expanded by Virchow .

-1940: Discovery of electron microscope allowing study of complex structures.

What is Protoplasm?

The word "protoplasm" comes from the Greek protos for first, and plasma for thing formed,

Protoplasm is considered to be an aggregate of small molecules such as amino acids, ions, various salts and molecules of proteins, carbohydrates , nucleic acids, vitamins among other materials which make up the living part of the of the cell.

It is generally colorless and its consistency could vary from organism to organism.

Types of Cells and Organisms

Division on basis of number of cells



They are composed of single cells

They are composed by multiple cells: usually large number

All functions are performed by the same cell i.e there is no division of labour

Different cells perform specific functions i.e. there is division of labour

Cell division involves only single cell

Specialized cells perform function of reproduction

They usually have shorter lives

Usually have longer lifespan

Examples : Amoeba, Chlamydomonas, Paramoecium and bacteria

Examples : Fungi, plants and animals.

Division on basis of type of organization

Prokaryotic (Primitive Cell)


Small in size ; ( 1-10 micrometer)

Comparatively large in size (5-100 micrometer)

Nucleus is not well defined and therefore it is called Nucleoid (nucleus like); not surrounded by nuclear membrane

Well defined nucleus; surrounded by nuclear membrane

Nucleolus is absent

Nucleolus is present

They are uni-cellular

They can be uni-cellular or multi-cellular

Only single chromosome is present

More than one chromosome is present

Cell division is usually by fission or budding

Cell division is by Mitosis or Meiosis

Membrane bound cell organelle are absent

Membrane bound cell organelle are present

Examples : Bacteria, Blue-Green Algae, Mycoplasma

Examples : Plant and Animals

The chlorophyll in photosynthetic prokaryotic bacteria is associated with membranous vesicles (bag like structures) but not with plastids as in eukaryotic cells

Why do some cells have specific shapes and sizes?

The shapes and size of cells depends upon the function they perform.

Some cells should change shape such as Amoeba which changes it shape to perform various functions such as locomotion (movement), ingestion and excretion.

Some cells on the other hand have definite shape as they perform specific functions.

For Example:

-Nerve Cell is elongated to transmit messages

-RBCs are discoidal (disc shaped) to carry blood

-Muscle cells are spindle shaped to provide elasticity and strength.

The same applies to tissues which are made up of specific type of cells and their structure too is dependent upon the kind of function they perform.

In humans, the stem-cell is responsible for generation of all other kinds of cell. Stem cell research has allowed scientists to explore the possibilities of tissue and organ regeneration that can open medical frontiers for human health.

Cell Size:

  • Size of cell varies with the type of organism.

  • Some are microscopic while some are visible with naked eyes.

  • Their size may vary from 0.2 mm to 18 cm.

  • Size of a typical cell in a multi-cellular organism ranges from 20-30 mm.

  • The largest cell is ostrich egg (15 cm in diameter with shell & 8 cm in diameter without cell).

  • The longest cell is nerve cell (upto 1 m or more).

  • Smallest cells so far known are PPLOs e.g., mycoplasma (0.1 mm in diameter).

  • Human egg is 0.1 mm in diameter.

Division of labour within a cell.

Each cell has certain specific components within it known as cell organelles.

Each kind of cell organelle performs a special function, such as making new material in the cell, clearing up the waste material from the cell and so on.

A cell is able to live and perform all its functions because of these organelles.

These organelles together constitute the basic unit called the cell.

Components and Structural Organization of Cell

There are three features in every cell:

1. Plasma membrane or Cell membrane

2. Nucleus

3. Cytoplasm

Plant cells in addition to cell membrane have a cell wall as well.

Cytoplasm has several cell organelles that help the cell perform its functions.

Plasma Membrane or Cell membrane or Plasma lemma

It is the outermost covering of the cell that separates the contents of the cell from its

external environment.

It is found in both, plant and animal cells and is the outermost covering in case of animals and is found below the cell wall in plants.

It is flexible and made up of organic molecules called lipids and proteins but the structure can only be seen through an electron microscope. The proteins are sandwiched between lipids.

The flexibility of the membrane allows some cells to engulf food and other materials from its external environment by a process known as endocytosis as in case of Amoeba.

It separates the cytoplasm from its surroundings by acting as a limiting boundary.

It is selectively permeable, which means that it allows or ‘permits’ the entry and exit of some materials from in and out of the cell.

Functions of Plasma Membrane

It regulates the movement of molecules inside and outside the cell.

It helps in maintaining the distinct composition of the cell.

How does the movement of material take place across cell membrane?

Movement of substances through cell membrane can happen either through Diffusion or Osmosis.

What is Diffusion?

The spontaneous movement of substances (solute or solvent) from a region of high concentration of low concentration is called as diffusion.

It does not require any extra energy and is therefore spontaneous. It can also be called a passive transport.

The transport of material happens in the medium and the presence of a selective membrane is not necessary.

The movement happens till equilibrium concentration is achieved.

For example, Carbon Dioxide or Oxygen move across the membrane through diffusion. But diffusion of gases can happen without a membrane as well (In case of a smell of hot food)

What is Osmosis?

The movement of solvent from a higher concentration to lower concentration through a selectively permeable membrane till the equilibrium is achieved is called as Osmosis.

Only the solvent particles move and it also happens till equilibrium is achieved.

Osmosis therefore can also be called as diffusion of solvents.

Unicellular freshwater organisms and most plant cells tend to gain water through

osmosis. Absorption of water by plant roots is also an example of osmosis.

What is Endosmosis and Exosmosis?

Movement of particles into the cell is called as Endosmosis.

Movement of particles outside the cell is called as Exosmosis.

Viruses lack any membranes and hence do not show characteristics of life until they enter a living body and use its cell machinery to multiply.

Effect of Types of Solution on Cells

(a) Hypertonic Solution: When the concentration of the solution outside the cell is more than the inside the cell. Due to this the cell looses water and becomes plasmolyzed.

When a living plant cell loses water through osmosis there is shrinkage or contraction of the contents of the cell away from the cell wall.

This phenomenon is known as plasmolysis.

(b) Isotonic Solution: When the concentration of the solution outside the cell is equal to the concentration of cytoplasm of the cell, it is called as isotonic solution.

(c) Hypotonic Solution: When the concentration of the solution outside the cell is lesser than that of cytoplasm of cell. Due to this the cell swells up and bursts.

Cell Wall

It is the outermost covering in plant cells and is absent in animal cells.

It is made up of cellulose and hemi-cellulose Cellulose is a complex substance and provides structural strength to plants.

It is a non living structure which is rigid, strong, thick and porous.

Cell walls permit the cells of plants, fungi and bacteria to withstand very dilute (hypotonic) external media without bursting.

The cell swells, building up pressure against the cell wall. The wall exerts an equal pressure against the swollen cell.

Because of their walls, such cells can withstand much greater changes in the surrounding medium than animal cells.

Functions of Cell Wall:

It provides definite shape to the cell.

It provides strength to the cell.

It is permeable and allows entry of molecules of different sizes.

It has the characteristics of repair and regeneration.


Nucleus was discovered by Robert Brown in 1831 and is the most important cell organelle which directs and controls all its cellular activities.

It plays a crucial part, along with the environment, in determining the way the cell will develop and what form it will exhibit at maturity, by directing the chemical activities of the cell.

It is called therefore called as ‘Headquarter of the cell’ or ‘Control Center of the Cell’.

It has double layered covering called as nuclear membrane which has pores to regulate the movement of materials in and out of the nucleus.

Besides nuclear membrane, nucleus also contains nucleolus and chromatin material and the substance filled inside the nucleus is nucleolus.

Chromosomes or chromatin material consists of DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid) which stores and transmits hereditary information for the cell to function, grow and reproduce.

Chromatin material is visible as entangled mass of thread like structures. Whenever the cell is about to divide, the chromatin material gets organized into chromosomes.

Chromosomes are visible as rod-shaped structures only when the cell is about to divide.

Functional segments of DNA are called genes. In a cell which is not dividing, this DNA is present as part of chromatin material.

In Eukaryotes, a well-defined nucleus is present while in Prokaryotes, a well-defined nucleus is absent. Prokaryotes contain a primitive nucleus called Nucleoid.

Functions of Nucleus:

It controls all the metabolic activities of the cell and regulates the cell cycle.

It helps in transmission of hereditary characters from parents to off springs.


The cytoplasm is the fluid content inside the plasma membrane. It also contains many specialized cell organelles.

Each of these organelles performs a specific function for the cell.

Cytoplasm was discovered by Kolliker in 1862.

It is the site of both biosynthetic and catabolic pathways.

Biosynthetic pathways are those processes which are involved in making of complex molecules within the living cell.

Catabolic pathways are the processes involving breakdown of particles for energy.

It can be divided into two parts :

(i) Cytosol: Aqueous soluble part contains various fibrous proteins forming cytoskeleton.

(ii) Cell organelles: Living part of the cells having definite shape, structure and function bounded by plasma membrane.

Large and complex cells, including cells from multicellular organisms, need a lot of chemical activities to support their complicated structure and function. To keep these activities of different kinds separate from each other, these cells use membrane-bound little structures (or ‘organelles’) within themselves.

Cell Organelles

1. Endoplasmic Reticulum

It is the network of membrane bound tubes and sheets present in the cytoplasm used for manufacturing and transport of proteins, fats and lipids to various places in the cell depending upon the need.

Some of these proteins and lipids help in building the cell membrane. This process is known as membrane biogenesis.

Some other proteins and lipids function as enzymes and hormones.

ER varies greatly in appearance in different cells but it always forms a network system.

What do they normally look like?

They look like long tubules or round or oblong bags (vesicles).

The ER membrane is similar in structure to the plasma membrane.

These are present in all cells except prokaryotes and mammalian erythrocytes.

Functions of ER

They serve as channels for the transport of materials (especially proteins) between various

regions of the cytoplasm or between the cytoplasm and the nucleus.

The ER also functions as a cytoplasmic framework providing a surface for biochemical reactions. For example, in liver cells of vertebrates, Smooth ER helps in removal of many toxins from the body.

Types of Endoplasmic Reticulum.

Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum

Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum

They are rough due to presence of ribosomes on its surface.

They are smooth as they do not have

ribosomes on its surface.

Ribosomes are responsible for protein


They help in manufacture of fat molecules or lipids and important for cell function.

2. Golgi Apparatus

Golgi Apparatus consists of a system of membrane-bound vesicles (flattened sacs).

These are arranged approximately parallel to each other in stacks called cisterns.

They are connected to membranes of Endoplasmic Reticulum and helps in dispatching of material synthesized near ER inside and outside the cell.

It was discovered by Camilo Golgi.

Functions of Golgi Apparatus

It helps in formation of lipids.

It helps in formation of lysosomes

It helps in melanin synthesis.

Lipids and proteins synthesized in endoplasmic reticulum are packed at Golgi and then transported in form of vesicles.

They provide the site for assembly of new membrane material.

3. Lysosomes

They are membrane bound structure filled with digestive enzymes which are made at rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER).

They acts as a waste removal system keeping the cell clean by digesting any foreign material or worn out cell organelles.

When there is disturbance in the metabolic processes of the cell due to any foreign material then the powerful digestive enzymes in the lysosome breakdown them into simpler substances.

In extreme cases, the lysosome itself bursts releasing the enzymes to digest the entire cell and it is therefore also called as the ‘Suicidal Bags’

4. Mitochondria

They are called as the ‘power house of the cell’ as the glucose is converted into energy at this site in the cell.

They have their own DNA and ribosomes and are therefore able to make their own proteins.

It has 2 membranous structures.

- The outer membranous structure is porous for transportation of material

-The inner membranous structure is highly folded to increase the surface area for ATP production.

ATP stands for Adenosine Tri-Phosphate which is the energy currency of the cell. All the energy consumed is first converted into ATP inside the mitochondria and then used up by the cell.

The body uses energy stored in ATP for making new chemical compounds and for mechanical work.

5. Plastids

They are double membranous and disc like structures found only in plant cells.

They also have their own DNA and ribosomes

There are two types of plastids depending upon the pigment they contain:

(i) Leucoplasts: White or colorless plastids. They are generally found in underground parts of the plant.

Leucoplasts are primarily organelles in which materials such as starch, oils and protein granules are stored.

(ii) Chromoplasts:

  • These are plastids that contain colored pigments.

  • Chromoplasts that contain the pigment chlorophyll are known as chloroplasts.

  • Chloroplasts are important for photosynthesis in plants. Chloroplasts also contain various yellow or orange pigments in addition to chlorophyll.

  • The internal organization of the Chloroplast consists of numerous membrane layers embedded in a material called the stroma.

  • These are similar to mitochondria in external structure.

6. Vacuoles

These are storage sacs for liquid or solid contents.

Vacuoles in Plant Cells

In plant cells, there is generally a single large vacuole that can occupy upto 50-90% of the cell space

In plant cells vacuoles are full of cell sap and provide turgidity and rigidity to the cell.

Many substances of importance in the life of the plant cell are stored in vacuoles.

These include amino acids, sugars, various organic acids and some proteins. In

Vacuoles in Animal Cells

In animal cells, there are generally several small sized vacuoles. In Amoeba, the food vacuole

contains the food items that the Amoeba has consumed.

Functions of Vacuoles

-They help in maintaining osmotic pressure of the cell.

-The help in providing rigidity and turgidity.

-The acts as storage units.

-In some cells, they may be used to expel excess water or wastes.

How is the structural organization of the cell important for ensuring its proper functioning?

Each cell acquires its structure and ability to function because of the organization of its membrane and organelles in specific ways.

The cell thus has a basic structural organization.

This helps the cells to perform functions like respiration, obtaining nutrition, and clearing of waste material, or forming new proteins.

Difference between Plant and Animal Cells

Plant Cell

Animal Cell

They have a cell wall to help maintain its shape, turgidity and rigidity along with the cell membrane

Only cell membrane is present.

They contain chloroplasts

They do not contain chloroplasts

They have generally single large vacoule

They have many smaller vacuoles

They have limited movement

They can generally move around

They do not have centrioles

They have centrioles

Nucleus is generally on the side

Nucleus is generally in the center


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