MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: What is the largest and smallest organelle in a living cell?

Date: Thu Sep 14 11:14:34 2006
Posted By: Cenk Sumen, Post-doc/Fellow, Immunology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 1158189513.Cb

Your predictions are quite accurate! In a eukaryotic cell (such as a nucleated
one that would be 
found in a mammal) the largest organelle would indeed be the nucleus, which
usually have a 
diameter of several microns (=micrometers, Ám). To give you an idea of the size,
if you shrank 
yourself and the world so that it was the size of a soccer ball, then a
normal-sized nucleus would 
seem to be several hundreds of meters across, about the size of a large stadium
in your 
miniature world! In a non-nucleated mammalian cell such as a red blood cell, the
organelles would probably be mitochondria, which are 0.5-1 microns. The smallest
organelle is, 
as you have guessed correctly, the ribosome, which is only about 20 nanometers
(= 0.02 
microns) in size.  From your miniature world the size of a soccer ball, a normal
sized ribosome 
would seem to be about the size of a large television! I hope that helps. Good
luck in your 
studies, and  please follow these links for further information on cell
structure and organelles.

Moderator's note: The largest organelle in a plant cell might not be the
nucleus, but is instead a large, fluid filled vacuole. Chloroplasts can also be
quite large in some plant cells, such as those on the leaves actively undergoing

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