ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Comparing Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Cells

Updated on July 29, 2013
Prokaryotes may be small but you don't always need a microscope to see them. The Grand Prismatic Spring is surrounded by huge mats of orange bacteria.
Prokaryotes may be small but you don't always need a microscope to see them. The Grand Prismatic Spring is surrounded by huge mats of orange bacteria. | Source

What are Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes

Earth is unique, as far as we can tell, in that it is the only planet to harbour life. The sheer diversity of living organisms on this planet is staggering, with an estimated 8.7 million different species sharing our home. At first glance, it looks like these organisms have little in common. Some fly through the sky, some swim beneath the waves. Some can live in extreme heat and cold, others are at home in forests. Upon closer inspection, however, all life fits into one of two different 'domains'*:

  • Prokaryotes - ancient organisms that lack a true nucleus or any membrane-bound organelles;
  • Eukaryotes - organisms whose cells possess a nucleus and several membrane-bound organelles.

It is important to remember that both divisions of life can still show the seven life processes - they just go about these processes in radically different ways. This hub takes a much closer look at the similarities and differences between these two fundamental divisions of life.

*Yes there is debate regarding just how many kingdoms/superkingdoms/empires/domains there are, but broadly speaking the first division that can be made is organisms with and without a nucleus.

Prokaryotic Cell Diagram


Structure of Prokaryotes Video

Prokaryotic Cell Features

Prokaryotes are named after their defining feature - they lack a true nucleus. Instead, genetic information is found naked in the cytoplasm. Prokaryotes lack all membrane bound organelles such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. In addition to this, prokaryotes:

  • Are often surrounded by murein cell wall (note - not cellulose!)
  • Contain ribosomes that are much smaller than their eukaryotic counterparts'
  • Their DNA is in the form of a single loop - often called a 'circular chromosome.' There can sometimes be additional, but much smaller, loops of DNA called plasmids. These often contain advantageous genes for features such as antibiotic resistance.
  • ATP production occurs in special regions of the cell membrane known as mesosomes.
  • Some prokaryotes possess flagella for movement.

Uses of Prokaryotes

When many people think of bacteria (the major class of prokaryotes) they think of diseases and sickness. Indeed, virulent strains of bacteria often hit the news, particularly as they develop resistance to antibiotics (e.g. MRSA.)

Prokaryotes are more than just a hazard to our health - there are many species that are important to humans:

  • The food industry uses bacterial species in the production of cheese and yoghurt.
  • Most of the decay and recycling of waste materials is done by bacterial cell of one species or another - this is used artificially by humans in sewage treatment plants.
  • Our skin is covered in billions of bacterial cells. In fact, there are more bacterial cells on or in your body than there are human cells! These healthy bacteria prevent more dangerous, virulent strains from entering the body.

Eukaryotic Cell Diagram

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Structure of Eukaryotes Video

Eukaryotic Cell Features

Eukaryotic cells are a much more recent form of life, and have a much more complex internal structure. Each organelle within a eukaryotic cell performs a specific role; the organelles work together to carry out the functions of the cell. This is known as 'division of labour.'

  • Nucleus - the largest organelle in the cell and visible under light microscopy. The nucleus contains genetic information in DNA of chromosomes;
  • Plant and Fungal cells have cell walls, made of cellulose and chitin respectively.
  • Ribosomes that are much larger than in Eukarotes;
  • Golgi Apparatus to modify and package proteins;
  • DNA is in the form of chromosomes - bound with proteins such as histones to condense, organise and protect the structure;
  • ATP is made in specialist structures called mitochondria.

There are many more membrane bound organelles in eukaryotes, some unique to plants and one or two unique to animals.

Differences between Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes

Cell Wall
YES (not cellulose)
PLANTS (Cellulose)
Golgi Body
Endoplasmic Reticulum
YES (small in animal cells - known as vesicles, large in plants surrounded by tonoplast membrane)
Pili and Flagella
Undulipodia and Cilia
Typical diameter
0.5-3.0 micrometers
Animals: 10-20 micrometers; Plants: 40-100 micrometers
A table comparing the organelles present in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      2 years ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

      Very good explanation of these cell types and their purposes.

    • Nettlemere profile image


      6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      This is a great straightforward to understand article, but with plenty of depth to it to. I hadn't realised that one lot had flagella and the other cilia (sometimes) - I assumed they were the same thing.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      6 years ago from UK

      Wow, I'd never even heard of prokaryotes or eukaryotes before. This was very interesting!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)