Human Cell Structure – Breaking It Down!

Lee 10

As the darkness of winter sneaks up on us like a decrepit and disgusting ghoul on old hallows-eve, were going to be taking a deeper look at ourselves and see how we work on a cellular level. Knowing how we function is a key ingredient to make sure we don’t end up like one of those ghouls mentioned (no offense to any ghouls).

Following on from the previous post where we talked about “The Anatomy of the Human Body” and the systems in place to allow the body to function as it does, this post is building on that with a look at the human cell structure. Highlighting once again at just how amazing we are as a species.

Cellular Data

This is where it gets a little technical, but please stay with me, as I travel into the human body, just as Dennis Quad did in “Inner Space” back in the 80s!

As you know the human body is made up of many types of cells, tissues and organs. These are very important as they are the building blocks for the human body.

The cell is the basic unit of body structure and all cells need food, water and oxygen to survive. As part of their function they also produce carbon dioxide and various waste products which need to be removed.

A cell is made up of 4 components:

  • The cell membrane which helps to hold its shape
  • The nucleus which controls the cell’s activities
  • The cytoplasm which helps transport minerals around the cell
  • The chromosomes contain genes that determine our physical and chemical makeup.

Cells have many functions including the metabolism of food, growth and repair, taking in certain chemicals to make their structure, the removal of waste products, the breakdown of food to use as fuel and to produce new cells…” Great Scott” as the Doc would say in “Back to the future”, i’m bang on with retro film references today.

Structure And Functionality

The nucleus contains DNA, which holds genetic information and provides an appropriate amount of amino acids for protein production.

Human cell structure
Strand of DNA holds unique cellular information

While Ribosomes are one of the four main macro molecules essential for life. They are made of RNA, (Ribonucleic acid) they receive information from the nucleus and synthesize appropriate protein as required.

Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) create canals in the cytoplasm, there are two types of ER, smooth and rough:

  • Rough ER: Synthesize protein exportation from the cell.
  • Smooth ER: Synthesize lipids.

Golgi Complex are folded Membrane sacs that have an entrance and exit through which proteins enter are modified sorted and then leave.

Lysosomes are the exterior of the cell, containing enzymes. Waste management cells, breakdown of protein, lipids nucleic acid, carbohydrates, and expels them as waste.


Mitochondria are one of the largest Organelles. Two membranes, outer and inner. They take in the nutrients, break them down and produce energy (ATP).

Finally we have the cell Membrane, which contain phospholipids, key building blocks of all cell membranes. These protect the cell and controls movement in and out.

A cell is the structural and functional unit of life. A typical cell consists of a plasma membrane separating the inner contents, or cytoplasm, from the environment around the cell. The cytosol is the fluid component of the cytoplasm. The cytoplasm includes the cytosol and all the organelles and structures in it. The nucleus is not considered to be part of the cytoplasm. Organelles perform essential cellular functions. The nucleus is the largest organelle, and it contains the cells genetic information encoded in molecules of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Each cell contains smaller organelles that perform various functions such as metabolism, transportation and secretion of substances. Because some cells perform specific functions, they have specially modified structures. For example, red blood cells are the oxygen carriers in the body. They lack a nucleus to make more space for the oxygen-carrying pigment, hemoglobin. The various structures and organelles in a cell float in a liquid called the cytoplasm.

Human cell structure
Cells in the human body

Six Main Functions Of A Human Cell

1. Provide Structure and Support – like a building is made of bricks, every organism is made of cells (mind blown). While some cells such as the collenchyma and sclerenchyma are specifically meant for structural support, all cells generally provide the structural basis of all organisms. For instance, the skin is made up of a number of skin cells. Vascular plants have evolved a special tissue called xylem, which is made of cells that provide structural support.

2. Facilitate Growth Through Mitosis – in complex organisms, tissues grow by simple multiplication of cells. This takes place through the process of mitosis in which the parent cell breaks down to form two daughter cells identical to it. Mitosis is also the process through which simpler organisms reproduce and give rise to new organisms.

3. Allow Passive and Active Transport – cells import nutrients to use in the various chemical processes that go on inside them. These processes produce waste which a cell needs to get rid of. Small molecules such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and ethanol get across the cell membrane through the process of simple diffusion. This is regulated with a concentration gradient across the cell membranes. This is known as passive transport. However, larger molecules, such as proteins and polysaccharides, go in and out of a cell through the process of active transport in which the cell uses vesicles to excrete or absorb larger molecules.

4. Produce Energy – an organism’s survival depends upon the thousands of chemical reactions that cells carry out relentlessly. For these reactions, cells require energy. As you may know plants get this energy through the process of photosynthesis, whereas animals get their energy through a mechanism called respiration.

5. Create Metabolic Reactions – metabolism includes all the chemical reactions that take place inside an organism to keep it alive. These reactions can be catabolic or anabolic. The process of energy production by breaking down molecules (glucose) is known as catabolism. Anabolic reactions, on the other hand, use energy to make bigger substances from simpler ones.

6. Aids in Reproduction – reproduction is vital for the survival of a species. A cell helps in reproduction through the processes of mitosis (in more evolved organisms) and meiosis. In mitosis cells simply divide to form new cells. This is termed asexual reproduction. Meiosis takes place in gametes or reproductive cells where there is a mixing of genetic information. This causes daughter cells to be genetically different from the parent cells. Meiosis is a part of sexual reproduction.

Reflection And Future Plans

Knowing how we function at the deepest of levels will hopefully give us a better appreciation of our bodies, which in turn may make us think twice regarding our lifestyle choices. Were not all going change overnight, but if we make steady changes over time, we can get to a point where we are running at an optimum level on a cellular level.

If you found this post useful, id love to hear your thoughts on it. So please, leave a comment below.

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10 thoughts on “Human Cell Structure – Breaking It Down!

  1. I found your post a highly interesting read and also learnt a great deal of information about the human cells. I have been also learning about the mitochondria. Like you say in the post the human cells are much more deeper and complicated areas to understand but once you have got it, it’s an amazing information.

    Thank you for educating us all.

    1. hi Habib,

      thank you for taking the time to read this post. The human cell structure is amazing to learn about. We are indeed a complex species, but also amazing at the same time. we could sit here and talk about cells all day and still have time to talk more. just glossing over the basics of human cells can give people a much better understanding of themselves and hopefully look after their body a little better knowing how they operate.

      Speak soon.

  2. I remember learning about cell reproduction and mitosis in school. Your article was very clear and easy to follow, and I would be happy to share this with my colleague who is a biology teacher. Anything to facilitate learning is always useful. Sometimes school books cannot always demonstrate what we want students to learn, so we have to use other resources, such as online videos and articles.

    1. hi,

      you must have gone to a better school than me as we never learned about things like this. maybe if we did I would have paid more attention?

      I think we (people) are fascinating and to learn how we operate is a key to understanding and helping us make use of the body we have. hopefully, this post will make people realize how we function and to maybe take better care of themselves. to know how we break food down and how it travels and works in the body was something I thought worth sharing.

      thanks for reading.

  3. Wow! We are fearfully and wonderfully complex! I remember studying these things in Biology in High School and college.

    Your article is a good reminder to me of how strong, and yet, how delicate we are made. It helps motivate me to take ever better care of my health.

    1. hi Glenn,

      I totally agree with you regarding how strong, yet fragile we are. Knowing how we function is valuable information to understand ourselves better. how the body reacts and grows is truly remarkable and should be appreciated as the miracle it is. I think information like this is more beneficial to people who are not just at school, but everyone who wants to look deeper than the superficial surface layer of ourselves.

  4. Great post on the human cell.

    This is something that has always fascinated me.

    The human body is an amazingly complex structure that science really doesn’t know much about although the breakthroughs that they have achieved in the last 50 years have been phenomenal.

    I watched a documentary once on how a cell is made up and what would need to happen for the body to function as it does.

    Just the one cell and there are trillions.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Mick,

      when you break it down and start to think about the cell process, it can be very overwhelming to think on a microscopic level, we are made up of trillions of cells. I try not to think too hard as it makes my head hurt, but the way we are able to function because of this is an amazing feat over a long period of evolution. as you say, technology has come a long way in the space of 50 years… I wonder what the next 50 hold?

      thanks pal.

  5. Hi Lee

    What an interesting article. The more I read about our bodies the more questions I have!

    I know that cells are amazing at producing new cells so why is it when we get a disease (e.g. of the liver) that we don’t just produce a whole load of healthy new cells? Is it something in the programing that makes them create new diseased cells?

    Thanks for any insights.



    1. Hi Jean,

      I hope you are well? im the same as you…the more I read the more questions I have. when we get diseases etc, it can be down to so many factors. things like the external environment or indeed internal functions that when out of sync can cause massive problems for us internally.

      Things like the endocrine system for example… by having a certain hormone imbalance can cause massive issues. Lets not forget genetics can play a key role in the way we grow and function. simple thing like the skin producing too much oil to help keep the skin soft can cause us to get spots, such as acne and things like that. its mind blowing to think just how everything works in sync for us to function and we have not even mentioned the central and peripheral nervous systems!

      I will be posting more on the human body over the coming weeks. so stay tuned.

      thanks again.

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