In the nucleus the DNA, along with certain proteins, is arranged in long, thin threads called chromatin fibers that coil into bodies called chromosomes during meiosis. The nucleus also contains one or more nucleoli (sing., nucleolus) that participate in the production on the RNA of ribosomes. The portion of the cell outside the nucleus, called the cytoplasm, contains several additional cell structures (often called organelles). Among the important organelles that may be present are the ribosomes; the endoplasmic reticulum, a highly convoluted system of membranes believed to be continuous with the nuclear envelope and responsible for transporting certain newly made proteins; the mitochondria, which extract energy by breaking down the chemical bonds in molecules of complex nutrients during respiration; the chloroplasts, which are present only in green plants and convert energy from sunlight by the process of photosynthesis; lysosomes, which contain digestive enzymes; peroxisomes, which contain a number of specialized enzymes; the centrosomes, which function during cell division; the Golgi apparatus, which functions in the synthesis, storage, and secretion of various cellular products; filaments and microtubules that form a sort of skeletal system known as a cytoskeleton and also participate in movement of cells and organelles; vacuoles containing food in various stages of digestion (see endocytosis); and inert granules and crystals. In plant cells there is, in addition to the cell membrane, a thickened cell wall, usually composed chiefly of cellulose secreted by the cell.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.