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What are the Characteristics of a Eukaryotic Cell?

Updated on August 29, 2019
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How are prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells different? Here's a simple explanation to help you get through your Biology exam!

What are the major differences between a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell? It's a lot easier to figure out than you'd think!

We are Made Up of Eukaryotic Cells

Since eukaryotes are quite a bit more complex than prokaryotes, they need more room to operate. You can't see prokaryotes with the naked eye, mainly because they fall into the Archaea and Bacteria Domains. Eukaryotes, on the other hand, have their own classification, Domain Eukarya.


You and I, your dog, that Venus Fly Trap in your window, and the flies that it eats, are all part of that special domain. While plants are unable to move or make conscious decisions the way that you and the fly are, they're still comprised of the same highly organized eukaryotic cells. However, there are eukaryotes that do not fall into any of the three domains; these are referred to as protists. They obtain food through sun exposure and moisture, the way a plant would.


Protist eukarya is generally found underwater.

Organelles and a Cell Wall

So, let's think about how our own body is set up. We have all types of organs that help us breathe, process food, think, speak, read, and write. Those organs are protected by an encasement of bone, muscle, skin, and other protective tissue. The eukaryotic cell works just like that.

The cell membrane determines what comes in and out of a cell, where cytoplasm, centrosomes, and cytoskeletal material act as protection, just like the bones of your body. The nucleus is enclosed within that protective casing. Since prokaryotic cells don't have organelles, they haven't a need for a cell wall.


The video below shows an excellent example of how the "City of Animal Cells" operates.

Central Nucleus

While DNA in a prokaryotic cell is generally located within a centralized area, DNA inside of the eukaryotic cell resides within the nucleus. How can prokaryotes live without a nucleus? Instead of getting their DNA from within their own "body," prokaryotes produce genetic material from whatever is available in their environment.

Key Points

It's a lot of information to digest, so here's a breakdown:


Eukaryotic Cells...

  • Have a clearly defined cell wall
  • Contain several organelles
  • Larger in size, complex (animals, plants, people, protists, or APPP)
  • Centralized Nucleus, DNA is produced from within

If you can remember those four key points, you'll be just fine on your test! The acronym APPP will keep you from mixing up prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell forms.


Just repeat it over and over, ANIMALS, PLANTS, PEOPLE, PROTISTS.

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