Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cell size

Almost all cells are too small to see with the naked eye. Why? The answer begins with the processes that keep a cell alive. A living cell must exchange substances with its environment at a rate that keeps pace with its metabolism. These exchanges occur across the plasma membrane, which can handle only so many exchanges at a time. Thus, cell size is limited by a physical relationship called the surface-to-volume ratio. By this ratio, an object’s volume increases with the cube of its diameter, but its surface area increases only with the square. If the cell gets too big, the inward flow of nutrients and the outward flow of wastes across that membrane will not be fast enough to keep the cell alive.