What are the main differences between prokaryotes and eukaryotes?


Prokaryotes and eukaryotes are two major types of cells that exist in the biological world. Both have distinct characteristics that set them apart from one another. In this article, we will explore the main differences between these two types of cells and delve into their unique features.

1. Cell Structure

One of the key differences between prokaryotes and eukaryotes lies in their cell structure. Prokaryotic cells are structurally simpler, lacking a true nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. On the other hand, eukaryotic cells are more complex, possessing a nucleus and various membrane-bound organelles.

1.1 Prokaryotic Cell Structure

Prokaryotic cells are typically smaller and have a simpler structure compared to eukaryotic cells. They lack a nucleus and their genetic material is found in the form of a single circular DNA molecule, known as a nucleoid. Prokaryotes also lack membrane-bound organelles such as mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi apparatus. Instead, they contain ribosomes, a cell membrane, cell wall (in some cases), and a few other structures.

1.2 Eukaryotic Cell Structure

Eukaryotic cells, on the other hand, are larger and more complex. They have a true nucleus that houses their genetic material, which is organized into multiple linear chromosomes. Eukaryotes also possess various membrane-bound organelles, including mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, lysosomes, and peroxisomes. These organelles perform specific functions and contribute to the overall complexity of eukaryotic cells.

2. Genetic Material

Another major difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes lies in their genetic material. Prokaryotes have a single circular DNA molecule, while eukaryotes have multiple linear chromosomes.

2.1 Prokaryotic Genetic Material

Prokaryotes have a single circular DNA molecule located in the nucleoid region of the cell. This DNA molecule contains all the genetic information necessary for the cell’s survival and reproduction. Prokaryotes also have smaller, circular pieces of DNA called plasmids, which can be transferred between cells and often carry additional genes.

2.2 Eukaryotic Genetic Material

Eukaryotes have multiple linear chromosomes, each containing a large amount of genetic material. These chromosomes are located within the nucleus of the cell and are tightly packaged with proteins called histones. Eukaryotic cells undergo a highly regulated process called mitosis or meiosis to divide and ensure the proper distribution of chromosomes during cell division.

Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Cells (Updated)

PROKARYOTES VS EUKARYOTES- How cells are different?

3. Cell Division

Cell division is another aspect that differentiates prokaryotes from eukaryotes. The mechanisms of cell division in these two types of cells are distinct.

3.1 Prokaryotic Cell Division

Prokaryotic cells divide through a process called binary fission. In binary fission, the DNA molecule replicates, and the two copies move to opposite ends of the cell. The cell then elongates, and a new cell wall forms, dividing the original cell into two identical daughter cells.

3.2 Eukaryotic Cell Division

Eukaryotic cells divide through a process called mitosis (for somatic cells) or meiosis (for reproductive cells). Mitosis is a complex process that involves the division of the nucleus and the subsequent separation of duplicated chromosomes into two daughter nuclei. Meiosis, on the other hand, is a specialized form of cell division that occurs during the production of gametes for sexual reproduction.

4. Size and Complexity

Prokaryotes and eukaryotes differ in terms of size and complexity.

4.1 Prokaryotic Size and Complexity

Prokaryotic cells are generally smaller in size compared to eukaryotic cells. They typically range from 1-10 micrometers in diameter. Due to their smaller size, prokaryotes have a simpler structure and fewer organelles.

4.2 Eukaryotic Size and Complexity

Eukaryotic cells are larger in size compared to prokaryotic cells, ranging from 10-100 micrometers in diameter. Their larger size allows for increased complexity and the presence of various organelles. Eukaryotes have a more intricate internal organization, enabling them to carry out specialized functions.

5. Reproduction and Diversity

Prokaryotes and eukaryotes also differ in terms of their modes of reproduction and overall diversity.

5.1 Prokaryotic Reproduction and Diversity

Prokaryotes reproduce asexually through binary fission, which is a relatively rapid process. They have a high reproductive rate, allowing them to quickly adapt to changing environments. Prokaryotes also have significant genetic diversity due to their ability to transfer genetic material through horizontal gene transfer and the presence of plasmids.

5.2 Eukaryotic Reproduction and Diversity

Eukaryotes can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Sexual reproduction involves the fusion of gametes from two parents, resulting in offspring with genetic diversity. Asexual reproduction can occur through processes such as budding, fragmentation, or parthenogenesis. Eukaryotes exhibit a wide range of diversity, with numerous species and complex multicellular organisms.

6. Metabolism

Metabolic processes in prokaryotes and eukaryotes also differ.

6.1 Prokaryotic Metabolism

Prokaryotes exhibit diverse metabolic capabilities, with some being autotrophic (able to synthesize their own food) and others being heterotrophic (relying on external food sources). They can carry out various types of metabolism, including aerobic respiration, anaerobic respiration, and fermentation.

6.2 Eukaryotic Metabolism

Eukaryotes have a more specialized and complex metabolism. They can be autotrophic, like plants, using photosynthesis to produce energy, or heterotrophic, like animals, relying on the consumption of other organisms for energy. Eukaryotes also have specialized organelles, such as mitochondria, that play a crucial role in energy production through cellular respiration.


FAQ 1: Can prokaryotes be multicellular?

Prokaryotes are typically unicellular organisms. While some prokaryotes can form aggregates or colonies, they do not exhibit true multicellularity like eukaryotes. However, there are certain exceptions, such as the cyanobacterium Nostoc, which can form filamentous structures known as trichomes.

FAQ 2: Do all eukaryotes have a nucleus?

Yes, all eukaryotes have a true nucleus that houses their genetic material. The nucleus is separated from the cytoplasm by a nuclear envelope and contains multiple linear chromosomes.

FAQ 3: Can prokaryotes carry out photosynthesis?

Some prokaryotes, such as cyanobacteria, are capable of carrying out photosynthesis. They possess pigments, like chlorophyll, that enable them to capture sunlight and convert it into energy. However, the mechanism and structures involved in photosynthesis differ from those found in eukaryotes.

FAQ 4: Are all eukaryotes multicellular?

No, not all eukaryotes are multicellular. While many eukaryotes, such as animals and plants, are multicellular organisms, there are also numerous unicellular eukaryotes, such as protozoa, algae, and fungi.

FAQ 5: Can prokaryotes have cell walls?

Yes, many prokaryotes have cell walls. However, the composition of these cell walls differs from the cell walls found in eukaryotes. Prokaryotic cell walls are primarily composed of peptidoglycan, while eukaryotic cell walls can contain substances such as cellulose (in plants) or chitin (in fungi).

FAQ 6: Are all eukaryotes larger than prokaryotes?

While eukaryotes are generally larger than prokaryotes, it is important to note that there is variation within both groups. Some prokaryotes can be larger than certain eukaryotes, especially unicellular eukaryotes such as yeast.


In summary, prokaryotes and eukaryotes differ significantly in terms of cell structure, genetic material, cell division, size and complexity, reproduction, diversity, and metabolism. Prokaryotes are simpler, smaller, and lack a true nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Eukaryotes, on the other hand, are larger, more complex, and possess a nucleus and various organelles. Understanding these differences enhances our knowledge of the fascinating diversity of life on Earth.

Rate article
Add a comment