Q:

What limits cell size?

A:

Quick Answer

The primary limitation on the size to which a single cell can grow is a mathematical principle called the surface to volume ratio. As the size of a three-dimensional object grows, its volume increases more rapidly than its surface does, which causes metabolic problems for cells. Additionally, the amount of cytoplasm the nucleus can contain and the structural limitations on the cell prevent them from being larger as well.

Know More
What limits cell size?
Credit: Bill Varie Photolibrary Getty Images

Full Answer

Cells are discrete metabolic units. They must be able to take resources in and expel waste and energy. The only place a cell can do this is along the thin, skin-like membrane surrounding it. As the volume of the cell increases in size, it must acquire and expel more substances; however, because the volume grows more quickly than the surface area, there is a limit to the amount of diffusion that can take place into or out of a cell.

The nucleus of a cell is essentially a small sphere within a larger sphere. Because the nucleus must become larger to control a larger cell, the nucleus is also susceptible to the problem of surface to volume ratio. This limits the size of the nucleus, which in turn, limits the size of the entire cell.

While the outer membrane of a cell protects the cell well on a microscopic level, large cells would require exceptionally thick membranes. As these membranes thicken enough to hold larger cells, they suffer from decreased permeability.


Is this answer helpful?

Similar Questions

  • Q:

    Why can cells only grow to a certain size?

    A:

    Cell size is limited by the surface area to volume ratio, the nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio, the fragility of the cell membrane and the structures that hold the cell together. Each of these factors works in conjunction to limit the ability of the cell to support a larger size, according to Ivy-Rose Holistic.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How many different kinds of proteins does one cell contain?

    A:

    The proteome, which is the assortment of proteins found in a single cell in a specific environment, varies greatly from one type of cell to another, according to Annenberg Learner. For example, a typical bacterial cell contains more than 4,000 proteins, while mammals, including humans, require upwards of 100,000 different proteins to function.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    What is the basic structure of a cell membrane?

    A:

    Cell membranes are, at their most basic, composed of a phospholipid bilayer with some surface proteins embedded around the surface. Plasma membranes contain phospholipids, cholesterol, proteins and carbohydrates that are arrayed in regular, repeating rows to form a highly plastic surface for the cell.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How does a virus recognize a host cell?

    A:

    A virus recognizes a host cell through using its outer membrane equipped with glycoproteins to bind with receptors on the surface of the host cell. Glycoproteins are structures on the virus's outer surface that are used to recognize and signal cell to cell interactions. A virus is enveloped with a membrane with these protruding glycoproteins as it roams inside of a biotic environment.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:

Explore