Microbiology => Procaryotes
Prokaryote, relatively simple unicellular organism lacking a nucleus and other features found in the more complex cells of all other organisms, called eukaryotes. In 1938 American biologist Herbert Copeland proposed that unicellular organisms lacking nuclei be classified in their own kingdom, Monera, also called Kingdom Prokaryotae. All bacteria were categorized in this newly established kingdom. This scheme was the first to establish separate kingdoms for prokaryotes (organisms without nuclei) and eukaryotes (organisms with nuclei).
In 1990 American microbiologist Carl Woese proposed that bacteria be divided into two groups, the archaea, or archaebacteria, and bacteria, based on their structural and physiological differences. In some classification systems, the archaea are considered prokaryotes; in others, they are classified in their own domain, the archaea. Archaebacteria consist of a small group of primitive anaerobes (organisms that do not require oxygen). They are found in a narrow range of habitats-often in extreme environments with high temperature, high salt, or high acidity. In contrast, bacteria live in a wide range of environments with or without oxygen, at various temperatures, and at various levels of acidity.
Prokaryotic cells are relatively small, ranging in size from 0.0001 to 0.003 mm (0.000004 to 0.0001 in) in diameter. With the exception of a few species, prokaryotic cells are surrounded by a protective cell wall. The cell walls of archaebacteria and bacteria contain forms of peptidoglycan, a protein-sugar molecule not present in the cell walls of fungi, plants, and certain other eukaryotes. The archaebacteria cell wall has a more diverse chemical composition than the cell wall of bacteria.
Just inside the cell wall of prokaryotes is the plasma membrane, a thin structure that is both flexible and strong. In both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, the plasma membrane is composed of two layers of phospholipid molecules interspersed with proteins, and regulates the traffic that flows in and out of the cell. The prokaryotic plasma membrane, however, carries out additional functions. It participates in replication of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) for cell division and synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy molecule. In some prokaryotes, the plasma membrane is essential for photosynthesis, the process that uses light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water to glucose.
In the interior of the prokaryotic cell is the cytoplasm, a watery fluid that is rich in dissolved salts, nutrients, enzymes, and other molecules. The great majority of the cell's biochemical reactions, which number in the thousands, take place within the cytoplasm. Prokaryotic cells typically have a single molecule of DNA in a closed loop floating free in a region of the cytoplasm called the nucleoid. Many species of prokaryotes also contain DNA in tiny ringlets known as plasmids in the cytoplasm.
Ribosomes, tiny bead-like structures that manufacture proteins, are also located in the cytoplasm. The ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the ribosomes differs significantly between the archaebacteria and bacteria. With the exception of the ribosomes, prokaryotes lack organelles (specialized structures such as the nucleus, chloroplasts, mitochondria, lysosomes, and Golgi apparatus), which are present in eukaryotes (see Cell). Some photosynthetic archaebacteria and bacteria have internal membranes, extensions of the plasma membrane known as chromatophores or thylakoids, which contain the pigments for photosynthesis.
Some species of prokaryotes form endospores, thick-walled, dehydrated structures that can resist extreme dryness and very high temperatures for long periods of time. Anthrax, tetanus, and botulism are diseases caused by endospore-forming bacteria.
Certain prokaryotes move independently by using flagella, long structures that rotate in a propeller-like fashion. Prokaryotic flagella consist of intertwined fibrils (small fibers) of the protein flagellin. A prokaryote may have a single flagellum, a group of flagella at one or both poles of the cell, or may be covered with flagella. Many species of prokaryotes also have pili (singular, pilus)-slender, hairlike extensions used for attachment to soil, rocks, teeth, or other structures.
Most prokaryotes multiply by the asexual process of binary fission, in which the DNA replicates in the cytoplasm and one DNA molecule passes to each newly formed cell. In addition, some prokaryotes undergo various processes of genetic recombination. For example, in the process called transformation, bacteria remove genes from the DNA released into the environment from the remains of dead cells, and incorporate the genes into their chromosome. In conjugation, genes pass from a donor bacterium to a recipient bacterium. In transduction, a virus transports bacterial genes from one cell to the next. Gene transfers account for the appearance of new biochemical traits.
Prokaryotes, like all organisms, must build complex molecules from simple molecules. Like most organisms, prokaryotes require carbon and energy to create the molecules of life-carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. Prokaryotes obtain carbon and energy from a variety of sources. Certain prokaryotes use carbon dioxide as their carbon source. Called autotrophs, these prokaryotes derive energy from different sources. Photoautotrophs, including the cyanobacteria, and the green sulfur and purple sulfur archaebacteria, derive their energy from light. Chemoautotrophs, including the soil bacteria Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas, derive their energy from inorganic compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and iron.
Heterotrophs are organisms that rely on ready-made organic compounds such as glucose or alcohol for their carbon source. Heterotrophs, like autotrophs, use different energy sources. A small group of bacteria, the photoheterotrophs, use light as their energy source, while chemoheterotrophs use organic compounds for both their carbon and energy sources.
Prokaryotes are the ancestors of all life forms. Although scientists debate the events of early evolution, evidence suggests that the archaebacteria, the first cells on earth, evolved at least 3.5 billion years ago, about a billion years after the earth was formed, possibly in waters with very high temperatures. The environment of the archaebacteria lacked free oxygen, which did not accumulate in the atmosphere or water for another billion and a half years. Prior to and during the time archaebacteria evolved, frequent volcanic eruptions poured mixtures of hot gasses into the air, which eventually dissolved in the boiling seas, constantly changing their chemical composition. As a result, natural selection favored the evolution of diverse metabolic pathways in the archaebacteria.
The biochemical activity of the archaebacteria further altered the composition of the water and the atmosphere, paving the way for evolution of bacteria. Among the early bacteria are the cyanobacteria, formerly known as blue green algae. Fossils of cyanobacteria, found in ancient rock forms called stromatolites, indicate that the cyanobacteria evolved from 2.5 to 3.4 billion years ago. Through the process of photosynthesis, which releases oxygen, cyanobacteria introduced oxygen into the atmosphere. As the oxygen content in the atmosphere increased over the centuries, bacteria evolved that used this oxygen in the process known as aerobic respiration, an efficient method of producing the energy molecule adenosiine triphosphate (ATP). Aerobic respiration set the stage for the evolution of eukaryotic cells-larger, more complex cells that require efficient energy production to carry out their life processes.
In a widely held theory known as endosymbiosis, scientists propose that simple eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes that engulfed other prokaryotes. According to this theory, the engulfed prokaryotes, which remained active in the cells, underwent changes over time and became the mitochondria (energy-producing organelles) of protozoa, or animal-like protists, from which animals evolved. The theory further holds that when photosynthetic bacteria were engulfed by other prokaryotes, the bacteria continued to photosynthesize within the cells that had engulfed them. The engulfed photosynthetic bacteria evolved into the chloroplasts of photosynthetic protists, the ancestors of plants. The bacteria-like DNA and ribosomes found in mitochondria and chloroplasts provide evidence for this theory.
MPORTANCE OF PROKARYOTES
Prokaryotes play significant roles in our daily lives. In a process called nitrogen fixation, many species of cyanobacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen to nitrogenous compounds that other organisms use as food sources. Moreover, the photosynthesis occurring in cyanobacteria still contributes substantial amounts of oxygen to the atmosphere and stores the sun's energy in carbohydrate molecules. Cyanobacteria are the foundation for aquatic ecosystems, providing food for protozoa and other aquatic organisms. Cyanobacteria are threatened, however, by ultraviolet radiation, which penetrates the atmosphere as a result of the thinning ozone layer.
Other prokaryotes act as recyclers of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and other elements. Many prokaryotes have medical and economic importance to humans. For instance, disease-causing bacteria have played a significant role in human history, causing diseases such as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, plague, whooping cough, pneumonia, syphilis, and botulism. Certain bacteria, including the soil bacteria Actinomycetes, produce antibiotics. Other bacteria are used industrially to synthesize vitamins, enzymes, organic acids, and food products and to produce drugs by the processes of genetic engineering. Archaebacteria support ecosystems in hot springs and deep sea vents, where a variety of organisms feed on them. Methane-producing archaebacteria are used widely in sewage treatment plants to convert sewage sludge into methane (see Bioremediation).