The ultrastructure of cells

Cells are the building blocks of all living organisms. Organisms made of a single cell, such as bacteria and the fungus yeast, are described as being unicellular.

Organisms made of many cells such as animals, most plants and many species of fungi, are described as being multicellular.

Microscope view of plant cells.
Microscope view of plant cells

Living organisms are made up of millions of units called cells. Cells are microscopic so to see their structure we need to use microscopes. We can see more structures clearly if we use stains to colour specimens before putting them under the microscope.

Stains are coloured dyes that are absorbed by some cell structures but not by others. An example of a stain which is used is iodine.

Microscope view of cheek cells.
Microscope view of cheek cells

The ultrastructure of a cell is its fine structure as revealed at high magnification. Animal, fungal and plant cells all contain structures specialised for particular functions called organelles.

The diagrams below show the similarities and differences between the ultrastructure of animal cells and plant cells.

Animal and plant cells. Both share cytoplasm, nucleus, ribosome, mitochondrion and cell membrane. Plant cells have chloroplast, vacuole and cell wall.