What is the Cell Structure of Protists?

What is the Cell Structure of Protists?
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  • 0:02 Definition of a Protist
  • 1:18 Another Unicellular Organism
  • 2:18 Interior of a Protist Cell
  • 3:56 Outer Cell Features of…
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Protists are mainly unicellular organisms that have a complex cellular structure. In this lesson we'll learn more about the protists' cell structure, as well as some other unique features.

Definition of a Protist

It is a well-known fact that most bodies of water contain lots of living organisms. Ponds, lakes, and streams are inhabited by a wide variety of animal and plant life. If one tried to make a list of all the ocean creatures, there would be a lot of pages to fill. But to really identify all living things in water, we'd have to get out a microscope. This allows us to see a whole world of living things that exist at a microscopic level. And what exactly are these creatures? They are microorganisms that we call protists.

Members of the kingdom Protista, protists are a highly diverse population of organisms. Have you ever heard of an amoeba or paramecium? If so, you have some knowledge of protists. Found nearly anywhere there is water, most protists are made up of one single cell. This would explain their microscopic size. What makes protists unique and sets them apart from other unicellular organisms, such as bacteria, is that their cells are eukaryotic. Like a tiny machine with many moving parts, eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and many organelles. In this lesson we will take a closer look at the cell structure of these microorganisms.

Another Unicellular Organism

We have established that protists are eukaryotic organisms that are mainly unicellular. This means we have something in common with these tiny creatures: We too are made of eukaryotic cells. This quality also makes them much different, and vastly more complex, than the single-celled organism, bacteria. What is the difference? Let's compare the two to get a better understanding.

Bacteria are prokaryotic, which is a different type of cell altogether. The simplest and most primitive type of cell, prokaryotes, lack the complex organelles that eukaryotes contain. Bacteria are essentially a membrane filled with cytoplasm and genetic information. You can imagine it this way: A eukaryotic cell is like a working factory with many complex machines and systems running together to perform multiple tasks. A prokaryotic cell, on the other hand, is like a warehouse with a couple of machines that do basic, but important, work.

Interior of a Protist Cell

Let's take a closer look at how the eukaryotic protist is constructed. In these tiny, complex cells we find a multitude of organelles, including one very important structure, a true nucleus. It should be noted that many features of protists vary greatly depending on the type, and partly on whether a protist is classified as plant-like or animal-like. We'll start with the common inner cell structures.

As previously mentioned, all protists have a true nucleus. The nucleus is like the central command center of the cell and contains crucial genetic information (DNA and RNA) needed for growth and reproduction. It is enveloped safely in a nuclear membrane and suspended within a jelly-like substance called cytoplasm. Also suspended within the cytoplasm we find such structures as endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi bodies. These organelles play important roles for the protist, such as protein secretion and transport.

Protists that are classified as animal-like must gain their nutrition from outside sources, just as we do. An amoeba is one example of a protist that locates, envelopes, and digests its prey. These protists contain mitochondria, which are organelles that break down food and create usable energy for the organism. Mitochondria are the power generators of the cell.

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