Biological cell.svg
A typical animal cell. Within the cytoplasm, the major organelles and cellular structures include: (1) nucleolus (2) nucleus (3) ribosome (4) vesicle (5) rough endoplasmic reticulum (6) Golgi apparatus (7) cytoskeleton (8) smooth endoplasmic reticulum (9) mitochondria (10) vacuole (11) cytosol (12) lysosome (13) centriole.
Latin organella
Code TH H1.

In cell biology, an organelle (play /ɔrɡəˈnɛl/) is a specialized subunit within a cell that has a specific function, and is usually separately enclosed within its own lipid bilayer.

The name organelle comes from the idea that these structures are to cells what an organ is to the body (hence the name organelle, the suffix -elle being a diminutive). Organelles are identified by microscopy, and can also be purified by cell fractionation. There are many types of organelles, particularly in eukaryotic cells. Prokaryotes were once thought not to have organelles, but some examples have now been identified.[1]


History and terminology

In biology organs are defined as confined functional units within an organism.[2] The analogy of bodily organs to microscopic cellular substructures is obvious, as from even early works, authors of respective textbooks rarely elaborate on the distinction between the two.

Credited as the first[3][4][5] to use a diminutive of organ (i.e. little organ) for cellular structures was German zoologist Karl August Möbius (1884), who used the term "organula" [6] (plural form of organulum, the diminutive of latin organum). From the context, it is clear that he referred to reproduction related structures of protists. In a footnote, which was published as a correction in the next issue of the journal, he justified his suggestion to call organs of unicellular organisms "organella" since they are only differently formed parts of one cell, in contrast to multicellular organs of multicellular organisms. Thus, the original definition was limited to structures of unicellular organisms.

It would take several years before organulum, or the later term organelle, became accepted and expanded in meaning to include subcellular structures in multicellular organisms. Books around 1900 from Valentin Häcker,[7] Edmund Wilson[8] and Oscar Hertwig[9] still referred to cellular organs. Later, both terms came to be used side by side: Bengt Lidforss wrote 1915 (in German) about "Organs or Organells".[10]

Around 1920, the term organelle was used to describe propulsion structures ("motor organelle complex", i.e., flagella and their anchoring)[11] and other protist structures, such as ciliates.[12] Alfred Kühn wrote about centrioles as division organelles, although he stated that, for Vahlkampfias, the alternative 'organelle' or 'product of structural build-up' had not yet been decided, without explaining the difference between the alternatives.[13]

In his 1953 textbook, Max Hartmann used the term for extracellular (pellicula, shells, cell walls) and intracellular skeletons of protists.[14]

Later, the now-widely-used[15][16][17][18] definition of organelle emerged, after which only cellular structures with surrounding membrane had been considered organelles. However, the more original definition of subcellular functional unit in general still coexists.[19][20]

In 1978, Albert Frey-Wyssling suggested that the term organelle should refer only to structures that convert energy, such as centrosomes, ribosomes, and nucleoli.[21][22] This new definition, however, did not win wide recognition.


While most cell biologists consider the term organelle to be synonymous with "cell compartment", other cell biologists choose to limit the term organelle to include only those that are DNA-containing, having originated from formerly-autonomous microscopic organisms acquired via endosymbiosis.[23][24][25]

The most notable of these organelles having originated from endosymbiont bacteria are:

Other organelles are also suggested to have endosymbiotic origins, (notably the flagellum - see evolution of flagella).

Under the more restricted definition of membrane-bound structures, some parts of the cell do not qualify as organelles. Nevertheless, the use of organelle to refer to non-membrane bound structures such as ribosomes is common.[27] This has led some texts to delineate between membrane-bound and non-membrane bound organelles.[28] These structures are large assemblies of macromolecules that carry out particular and specialized functions, but they lack membrane boundaries. Such cell structures include:

Eukaryotic organelles

Eukaryotes are one of the structurally complex cell type, and by definition are in part organized by smaller interior compartments, that are themselves enclosed by lipid membranes that resemble the outermost cell membrane. The larger organelles, such as the nucleus and vacuoles, are easily visible with the light microscope. They were among the first biological discoveries made after the invention of the microscope.

Not all eukaryotic cells have each of the organelles listed below. Exceptional organisms have cells which do not include some organelles that might otherwise be considered universal to eukaryotes (such as mitochondria).[29] There are also occasional exceptions to the number of membranes surrounding organelles, listed in the tables below (e.g., some that are listed as double-membrane are sometimes found with single or triple membranes). In addition, the number of individual organelles of each type found in a given cell varies depending upon the function of that cell.

Major eukaryotic organelles
Organelle Main function Structure Organisms Notes
chloroplast (plastid) photosynthesis, traps energy from sunlight double-membrane compartment plants, protists (rare kleptoplastic organisms) has some genes; theorized to be engulfed by the ancestral eukaryotic cell (endosymbiosis)
endoplasmic reticulum translation and folding of new proteins (rough endoplasmic reticulum), expression of lipids (smooth endoplasmic reticulum) single-membrane compartment all eukaryotes rough endoplasmic reticulum is covered with ribosomes, has folds that are flat sacs; smooth endoplasmic reticulum has folds that are tubular
Golgi apparatus sorting and modification of proteins single-membrane compartment all eukaryotes cis-face (convex) nearest to rough endoplasmic reticulum; trans-face (concave) farthest from rough endoplasmic reticulum
mitochondria energy production from the oxidation of food substances and the release of adenosine triphosphate double-membrane compartment most eukaryotes has some DNA; theorized to be engulfed by an ancestral eukaryotic cell (endosymbiosis)
vacuole storage, helps maintain homeostasis single-membrane compartment eukaryotes
nucleus DNA maintenance, controls all activities of the cell, RNA transcription double-membrane compartment all eukaryotes contains bulk of genome

Mitochondria and chloroplasts, which have double-membranes and their own DNA, are believed to have originated from incompletely consumed or invading prokaryotic organisms, which were adopted as a part of the invaded cell. This idea is supported in the Endosymbiotic theory.

Minor eukaryotic organelles and cell components
Organelle/Macromolecule Main function Structure Organisms
acrosome helps spermatoza fuse with ovum single-membrane compartment many animals
autophagosome vesicle which sequesters cytoplasmic material and organelles for degradation double-membrane compartment all eukaryotic cells
centriole anchor for cytoskeleton, helps in cell division by forming spindle fibers Microtubule protein animals
cilium movement in or of external medium; "critical developmental signaling pathway".[30] Microtubule protein animals, protists, few plants
eyespot apparatus detects light, allowing phototaxis to take place green algae and other unicellular photosynthetic organisms such as euglenids
glycosome carries out glycolysis single-membrane compartment Some protozoa, such as Trypanosomes.
glyoxysome conversion of fat into sugars single-membrane compartment plants
hydrogenosome energy & hydrogen production double-membrane compartment a few unicellular eukaryotes
lysosome breakdown of large molecules (e.g., proteins + polysaccharides) single-membrane compartment most eukaryotes
melanosome pigment storage single-membrane compartment animals
mitosome not characterized double-membrane compartment a few unicellular eukaryotes
myofibril muscular contraction bundled filaments animals
nucleolus ribosome production protein-DNA-RNA most eukaryotes
parenthesome not characterized not characterized fungi
peroxisome breakdown of metabolic hydrogen peroxide single-membrane compartment all eukaryotes
ribosome translation of RNA into proteins RNA-protein eukaryotes, prokaryotes
vesicle material transport single-membrane compartment all eukaryotes

Other related structures:

(A) Electron micrograph of Halothiobacillus neapolitanus cells, arrows highlight carboxysomes. (B) Image of intact carboxysomes isolated from H. neapolitanus. Scale bars are 100 nm.[31]

Prokaryotic organelles

Prokaryotes are not as structurally complex as eukaryotes, and were once thought not to have any internal structures enclosed by lipid membranes. In the past, they were often viewed as having little internal organization; but, slowly, details are emerging about prokaryotic internal structures. An early false turn was the idea developed in the 1970s that bacteria might contain membrane folds termed mesosomes, but these were later shown to be artifacts produced by the chemicals used to prepare the cells for electron microscopy.[32]

However, more recent research has revealed that at least some prokaryotes have microcompartments such as carboxysomes. These subcellular compartments are 100 - 200 nm in diameter and are enclosed by a shell of proteins.[1] Even more striking is the description of membrane-bound magnetosomes in bacteria,[33][34] as well as the nucleus-like structures of the Planctomycetes that are surrounded by lipid membranes.[35]

Prokaryotic organelles and cell components
Organelle/Macromolecule Main function Structure Organisms
carboxysome carbon fixation protein-shell compartment some bacteria
chlorosome photosynthesis light harvesting complex green sulfur bacteria
flagellum movement in external medium protein filament some prokaryotes and eukaryotes
magnetosome magnetic orientation inorganic crystal, lipid membrane magnetotactic bacteria
nucleoid DNA maintenance, transcription to RNA DNA-protein prokaryotes
plasmid DNA exchange circular DNA some bacteria
ribosome translation of RNA into proteins RNA-protein eukaryotes, prokaryotes
thylakoid photosynthesis photosystem proteins and pigments mostly cyanobacteria

Proteins and organelles

The function of a protein is closely correlated with the organelle in which it resides. Some methods were proposed for predicting the organelle in which an uncharacterized protein is located according to its amino acid composition[36][37] and some methods were based on pseudo amino acid composition.[38][39][40][41]

See also


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  • organelle — n. (Biol.) a specialized part of a cell performing a specific function, usually visible under the microscope as a distinct object; it is analogous to an organ[2], but on a microscopic scale. Syn: cell organ. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • organelle — [ ɔrganɛl ] n. m. • déb. XXe; de organe ♦ Biol. Élément figuré cellulaire (mitochondrie, chloroplaste, cil, etc.) existant parfois en plusieurs exemplaires dans la cellule. ⇒ organite. « des organelles isolés tels que les microsomes du foie »… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • organelle — organelle. См. органоид. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • organelle — (n.) 1909, from Mod.L. organella, from L. organum instrument, organ (see ORGAN (Cf. organ)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • organelle — ► NOUN Biology ▪ an organized or specialized structure within a cell. ORIGIN Latin organella little tool …   English terms dictionary

  • organelle — [ôr΄gə nel′] n. [Ger < ModL organella < L organum (< Gr organon: see ORGAN) + ella, fem. of ellus, dim. suffix] a discrete structure within a cell, as a chloroplast or centriole, characterized by having specialized functions, a usually… …   English World dictionary

  • Organelle — Schemazeichnung einer tierischen Zelle. Membranumschlossene Organellen Strukturen ohne Membran, die je nach Definition zu den Organellen gezählt werden könnten …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Organelle — Organite Demande de traduction Organelle → …   Wikipédia en Français

  • organelle — UK [ˌɔː(r)ɡəˈnel] / US [ˌɔrɡəˈnel] noun [countable] Word forms organelle : singular organelle plural organelles biology a structure in a cell that is designed to do a particular job, for example a nucleus …   English dictionary

  • organelle — blp, D. organellelli biol. «elementy strukturalne ciała pierwotniaków (np. wici, rzęski) odpowiadające funkcjonalnie narządom zwierząt wielokomórkowych» ∆ Organelle komórkowe «struktury cytoplazmy komórek roślinnych i zwierzęcych związane z… …   Słownik języka polskiego

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