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What are the Characteristics of a Prokaryotic Cell?

Updated on August 28, 2019
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Clovis is a former kennel technician and foster parent for Albert’s Dog Lounge. She is pursuing a veterinary degree.

Straight to the Point

Biology can be a confusing subject, but it doesn't have to be. No need to overcomplicate an already complex and difficult topic! Here is a simple, easy to understand explanation of what the prokaryotic cell is and how it functions.

Prokaryotic Versus Eukaryotic

All living beings are made up of cells, and those cells are defined as being either prokaryotic or eukaryotic. The life that you see all around you, grass, trees, animals, and insects, are eukaryotic. Other life forms such as bacteria are referred to as prokaryotes.

The three domains of life are as follows:

  • Domain Eukarya
  • Domain Archaea
  • Domain Bacteria

Archaea also happens to fall under the prokaryotic cell category, but how are they different from bacteria? Well, normal bacteria are only able to survive in comfortable, sustainable conditions. Archaea is somewhat like a super-bacteria, it's able to survive in harsh conditions where most living beings could not.

They're also among the oldest living creatures on the planet, found near volcanoes in the deepest parts of the ocean where heat and moisture blend together.

Prokaryotes are Simple

When you're looking at a slide through a microscope or a photo, check for these characteristics:

  • A lack of cell wall
  • A lack of smaller organelles
  • DNA that is noticeably dense within a region

Since they aren't nearly as complex as the eukaryotic cell, you won't be able to see a prokaryote without a microscope.

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Are There Similarities?

While the two are quite unique from each other, they do contain some of the same elements. For starters, all cells have a substance called cytoplasm that works as a conduit and helps with movement. Both prokaryotes and eukaryotes contain DNA and ribosomes. If you aren't familiar with what they are, ribosomes are simply responsible for producing enzymes, or proteins. Without them, cells aren't able to remain functional.

Although prokaryotes don't contain cell walls, they do have cell membranes. It acts as a gatekeeper, deciding what goes in and what comes out.

Bacteria and Viruses

These single-celled organisms are all around us, some are good, and some can make us terribly ill. This is why it's so important to wash your hands, and avoid sharing food and drinks with others. Streptococcus, or strep throat is a highly contagious prokaryote and very painful if contracted.

On the other hand, viruses can also make us quite sick, and for long periods of time. However, viruses do not fall under either category. In fact, they aren't even considered living beings.


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    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      19 months ago from North Carolina

      Good explanation, and very informative. Thank you for sharing!


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