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Vesicles: Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 What are Vesicles?
  • 0:42 Function and Types of Vesicles
  • 2:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

Cells must be able to move molecules, digest particles, and secrete materials in order to survive. For many cellular functions, vesicles are used. In this lesson, we will learn about vesicles and how they are used by cells.

What Are Vesicles?

Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. In order for organisms to survive, their cells must be able to complete numerous functions. Many of these functions require the cells to move molecules from one part of the cell to the other. When a cell needs to move a molecule many times, it uses vesicles.

Vesicles are cellular organelles that are composed of a lipid bilayer. You can think of vesicles as cellular envelopes that are used to transport materials from one place to another. Vesicles also function in metabolism and enzyme storage as well. This diagram shows the overall structure of a simple vesicle:

Function and Types of Vesicles

Vesicles play many roles within a cell. Since vesicles are composed of a lipid bilayer, they can have a completely self-contained environment that is different from the inside of the cell. There are essentially four types of vesicles used by cells. They are vacuoles, lysosomes, transport vesicles, and secretory vesicles.

Vacuoles are vesicles that contain mostly water. They are able to regulate the pressure and water level of the cell to control the conditions of the internal environment. Plant cells are known to have large vacuoles. This diagram depicts the large vacuole inside a plant cell:

Lysosomes are cellular vesicles that contain digestive enzymes. Lysosomes are used by cells to break down food particles and to get rid of unneeded cellular materials.

Transport vesicles move molecules within the cells. All cells make proteins and require them to function. Proteins are made in ribosomes. When the proteins are made, they are packaged into transport vesicles and moved to the Golgi apparatus, where they can be modified and sorted before being sent to their final destination in the cell.

Secretory vesicles contain materials that are to be secreted into the cell. Many cells produce chemicals and then store them in secretory vesicles. When the time is right, these vesicles secrete the chemical into the cell.

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