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What Is the Function of Cytoplasm?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cytoplasm has three basic functions within the cells of living organisms. Made of three basic components, cytoplasm is a medium of suspension for the organelles in the cell. The function of cytoplasm is also a means of transport for genetic material and the products of cellular respiration. As cytoplasm is a fluid, it acts as a buffer, protecting the cell's genetic material and organelles from damage due to movement or collision with other cells.

The three main parts of cytoplasm are cytosol, the organelles and cytoplasmic inclusions. Cytosol is the liquid that suspends the organelles; it is mainly water with some protein strands that help support the organelles. Organelles are specialized parts of the cell, each having its own function; major functions of the organelles include cellular respiration, creation of new proteins and destruction of waste material. Finally, cytoplasmic inclusions are non-soluble molecules floating within the cytoplasm; in many cells, these inclusions are stored fats and sugars ready for cellular respiration.

Cytoplasm's primary function is to act as a medium of suspension for a cell's organelles, keeping a cell's inner structure intact. As organelles are not neutrally buoyant in cytoplasm due to the changing concentrations of solutes, the protein strands described in the previous paragraph are necessary to keep organelles in place. The cytoplasm and proteins prevent gravity from grouping the organelles near the bottom of the cell, an event that would greatly impede their function.

Each cell is a genetic and molecular factory. A secondary, but no less important, function of cytoplasm is to act as a means of transport for materials the cell uses and produces. Everything from the building blocks of RNA to the energy storage units each cell needs to survive all travel through the cytoplasm. In this regard, the function of cytoplasm has an added benefit: molecular building blocks can simply float through the cytoplasm until needed. No extra storage unit is needed.

The final function of cytoplasm is to offer protection. All cells experience movement in one form or another. Contact with other cells or outside surfaces is all but certain. The cytoplasm acts as a buffer in these cases, protecting organelles from the shock of impact. This feature is especially important for the lysosome, an organelle. Lysosomes contain enzymes to break down a cell's waste. If cytoplasm was not present, the lysosome would likely rupture during impact, its released enzymes killing the entire cell.

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Discussion Comments

By stl156 — On Jul 15, 2011

@Izzy78 - Those are some great questions. I can tell you're very interested in the subject. It has been quite a while since I took biology in college, but I think I remember enough to help you out.

For some reasons, classes just seem to mention the organelles without a lot of detail. The function of ribosomes, I believe, is to carry genetic material around the cell. Somehow they end up being used to make proteins in the cell.

Vacuoles are usually used to store waste materials or anything that would throw off the chemical balance of the cell. As JimmyT mentioned, molecules need to move in and out of the cell, and vacuoles let the cell try to control those things.

Hopefully that's enough information to get you started. If you have more questions, I would suggest doing a few online searches or ask your teacher. Most teachers I know are very excited when a student shows interest, so he or she will probably be glad to help you learn more.

By Izzy78 — On Jul 14, 2011

Would someone here mind explaining to me how ribosomes function? In class, we learned that they were another type of organelle, but we didn't learn anything about what they really are or what they do in the cell. Every picture of a cell shows a lot of ribosomes, so they must have some sort of major function.

We were talking about vacuoles, too, and we learned that is stores extra water for the cell. Is the liquid in vacuoles the same as the liquid in the cytoplasm? If not, what are the differences? If it is the same liquid, what is the point of having vacuoles?

By TreeMan — On Jul 13, 2011

Since plants have cell walls that provide structural support, I don't think that the function of cytoplasm in a plant cell would include protection would it?

Along the same lines, I was wondering if maybe cytoplasm had a different composition or use in plants. Since plants use photosynthesis to make sugars, the cytoplasm would have a lot more inclusions, as the article calls them. Does this make the liquid more dense, and does the plant have to do anything special to keep the cell molecularly balanced?

By JimmyT — On Jul 12, 2011

@cardsfan27 - The viscosity is something I was wondering about, as well. One of the other indirect uses of cytoplasm is to regulate what elements and molecules are allowed to move in and out of the cell via osmosis and diffusion. Depending on what substances are in the cytoplasm, I would think that the thickness could change from being almost pure water to being very thick. I am no expert, though, so maybe someone else could give more information.

I never knew that there were proteins responsible for holding organelles in place. Something I always found myself wondering was how everything stayed in place. I still think things like mitochondria and lysosomes would have to be able to move around, right?

By cardsfan27 — On Jul 12, 2011

I knew what cytoplasm was, but its real function is never really covered in any biology classes. I didn't know it did anything besides provide a medium that allowed organelles to float around.

I would have assumed that since the name included "plasma" the solution would have been a bit thicker, but this article makes me think it is more watery.

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