Scientists Say: Vacuole | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Vacuole

This is where cells store their stuff
May 14, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
vacuole

This is a diagram of a cell with all of its parts, including the vacuole (green).

MesserWoland and Szczepan1990/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Vacuole (noun, “VAC-you-ole”)

This is a specialized structure inside a cell. It consists of a bubble of fluid surrounded by a membrane. A vacuole, like a closet in a house, can store whatever a cell needs at the time. A cell might stash food in a vacuole before digesting it. Or a cell might use a vacuole to collect or isolate trash or toxins until they can be disposed of safely. The fluid inside a vacuole may contain proteins called enzymes that can help break down the toxins or foods stored inside. Vacuoles can also store water, which can help cells in organisms like plants to keep up their shape.

In a sentence

If a yeast cell has no vacuoles, its trash builds up inside until the cell destroys itself.

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Power Words

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cell     The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.

digest     (noun: digestion) To break down food into simple compounds that the body can absorb and use for growth. Some sewage-treatment plants harness microbes to digest — or degrade — wastes so that the breakdown products can be recycled for use elsewhere in the environment.

enzymes     Molecules made by living things to speed up chemical reactions.

membrane     A barrier which blocks the passage (or flow through) of some materials depending on their size or other features. Membranes are an integral part of filtration systems. Many serve that same function as the outer covering of cells or organs of a body.

molecule     An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

protein     A compound made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. Among the better-known, stand-alone proteins are the hemoglobin (in blood) and the antibodies (also in blood) that attempt to fight infections. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.

toxin     A poison produced by living organisms, such as germs, bees, spiders, poison ivy and snakes.

vacuole     A large compartment in a cell.

yeast     One-celled fungi that can ferment carbohydrates (like sugars), producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. They also play a pivotal role in making many baked products rise.