A cell wall is a tough, flexible and sometimes fairly rigid layer surrounding a cell, located external to the cell membrane, which provides the cell with structural support, protection, and acts as a filtering mechanism. A major function of the cell wall is to act as a pressure vessel, preventing over-expansion when water enters the cell. They are found in plants, bacteria, fungi, algae, and some archaea. Animals, and protozoa do not have cell walls.
The materials in a cell wall vary between species, and in plants and fungi also differ between cell types and developmental stages. In plants, the strongest component of the complex cell wall is a carbohydrate, the glucose polymer called cellulose. In bacteria, peptidoglycan forms the cell wall. Archaean cell walls have various compositions, and may be formed of glycoprotein S-layers, pseudopeptidoglycan, or polysaccharides. Fungi possess cell walls of the glucosamine polymer chitin, and algae typically possess walls constructed of glycoproteins and polysaccharides. However the diatoms have a cell wall composed of silicic acid. Often, other accessory molecules are found anchored to the cell wall.
The cell wall serves a similar purpose in those organisms that possess them. The wall gives cells rigidity and strength, offering protection against mechanical stress. In multicellular organisms, it permits the organism to build and hold its shape (morphogenesis). The cell wall also limits the entry of large molecules that may be toxic to the cell. It further permits the creation of a stable osmotic environment by preventing osmotic lysis and helping to retain water. The composition, properties, and form of the cell wall may change during the cell cycle and depend on growth conditions.
Think of the cell wall as a wicker basket in which a balloon has been inflated so that it exerts pressure from the inside. Such a basket is very rigid and resistant to mechanical damage. Thus does the prokaryote cell (and eukaryotic cell that possesses a cell wall) gain strength from a flexible plasma membrane pressing against a rigid cell wall.
The rigidity of the cell wall thus results in part from inflation of the cell contained. This inflation is a result of the passive uptake of water.
In plants, a secondary cell wall is a thicker additional layer of cellulose which increases wall rigidity. Additional layers may be formed containing lignin in xylem cell walls, or containing suberin in cork cell walls. These compounds are rigid and waterproof, making the secondary wall stiff. Both wood and bark cells of trees have secondary walls. Other parts of plants such as the leaf stalk may acquire similar reinforcement to resist the strain of physical forces.
Certain single-cell protists and algae also produce a rigid wall. Diatoms build a frustule from silica extracted from the surrounding water; radiolarians also produce a test from minerals. Many green algae, such as the Dasycladales encase their cells in a secreted skeleton of calcium carbonate. In each case, the wall is rigid and essentially inorganic.
The major carbohydrates making up the primary (growing) plant cell wall are cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin. The cellulose microfibrils are linked via hemicellulosic tethers to form the cellulose-hemicellulose network, which is embedded in the pectin matrix. The most common hemicellulose in the primary cell wall is xyloglucan. In grass cell walls, xyloglucan and pectin are reduced in abundance and partially replaced by glucuronarabinoxylan, a hemicellulose. Primary cell walls characteristically extend (grow) by a mechanism called acid growth, which involves turgor-driven movement of the strong cellulose microfibrils within the weaker hemicellulose/pectin matrix, catalyzed by expansin proteins. The outer part of the primary cell wall of the plant epidermis is usually impregnated with cutin and wax, forming a permeability barrier known as the plant cuticle.
Secondary cell walls contain a wide range of additional compounds that modify their mechanical properties and permeability. The major polymers that make up wood (largely secondary cell walls) include cellulose (35 to 50%), xylan, a type of hemicellulose, (20 to 35%) and a complex phenolic polymer called lignin (10 to 25%). Lignin penetrates the spaces in the cell wall between cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin components, driving out water and strengthening the wall. The walls of cork cells in the bark of trees are impregnated with suberin, and suberin also forms the permeability barrier in primary roots known as the Casparian strip. Secondary walls - especially in grasses - may also contain microscopic silica crystals, which may strengthen the wall and protect it from herbivores.
Plant cells walls also contain numerous enzymes, such as hydrolases, esterases, peroxidases, and transglycosylases, that cut, trim and cross link wall polymers. Small amounts (1-5%) of structural proteins are found in most plant cell walls; they are classified as hydroxyproline-rich glycoproteins (HRGP), arabinogalactan proteins (AGP), glycine-rich proteins (GRPs), and proline-rich proteins (PRPs). Each class of glycoprotein is defined by a characteristic, highly repetitive protein sequence. Most are glycosylated, contain hydroxyproline (Hyp) and become cross-linked in the cell wall. These proteins are often concentrated in specialized cells and in cell corners. Cell walls of the epidermis and endodermis may also contain suberin or cutin, two polyester-like polymers that protect the cell from herbivores. The relative composition of carbohydrates, secondary compounds and protein varies between plants and between the cell type and age.
Up to three strata or layers may be found in plant cell walls:
Cell walls in some plant tissues also function as storage depots for carbohydrates that can be broken down and resorbed to supply the metabolic and growth needs of the plant. For example, endosperm cell walls in the seeds of cereal grasses, nasturtium, and other species, are rich in glucans and other polysaccharides that are readily digested by enzymes during seed germination to form simple sugars that nourish the growing embryo. Cellulose microfibrils are not readily digested by plants, however.
In some plants and cell types, after a maximum size or point in development has been reached, a secondary wall is constructed between the plant cell and primary wall. Unlike the primary wall, the microfibrils are aligned mostly in the same direction, and with each additional layer the orientation changes slightly. Cells with secondary cell walls are rigid. Cell to cell communication is possible through pits in the secondary cell wall that allow plasmodesma to connect cells through the secondary cell walls.
Like plants, algae have cell walls. Algal cell walls contain cellulose and a variety of glycoproteins. The inclusion of additional polysaccharides in algal cells walls is used as a feature for algal taxonomy.
The group of algae known as the diatoms synthesize their cell walls (also known as frustules or valves) from silicic acid (specifically orthosilicic acid, H4SiO4). The acid is polymerised intra-cellularly, then the wall is extruded to protect the cell. Significantly, relative to the organic cell walls produced by other groups, silica frustules require less energy to synthesize (approximately 8%), potentially a major saving on the overall cell energy budget and possibly an explanation for higher growth rates in diatoms.
There are several groups of organisms that may be called "fungi". Some of these groups have been transferred out of the Kingdom Fungi, in part because of fundamental biochemical differences in the composition of the cell wall. Most true fungi have a cell wall consisting largely of chitin and other polysaccharides. True fungi do not have cellulose in their cell walls, but some fungus-like organisms do.
The dictyostelids are another group formerly classified among the fungi. They are slime moulds that feed as unicellular amoebae, but aggregate into a reproductive stalk and sporangium under certain conditions. Cells of the reproductive stalk, as well as the spores formed at the apex, possess a cellulose wall. The spore wall has been shown to possess three layers, the middle of which is composed primarily of cellulose, and the innermost is sensitive to cellulase and pronase.
Around the outside of the cell membrane is the bacterial cell wall. Bacterial cell walls are made of peptidoglycan (also called murein), which is made from polysaccharide chains cross-linked by unusual peptides containing D-amino acids. Bacterial cell walls are different from the cell walls of plants and fungi which are made of cellulose and chitin, respectively. The cell wall of bacteria is also distinct from that of Archaea, which do not contain peptidoglycan. The cell wall is essential to the survival of many bacteria. The antibiotic penicillin is able to kill bacteria by inhibiting a step in the synthesis of peptidoglycan.
There are broadly speaking two different types of cell wall in bacteria, called Gram-positive and Gram-negative. The names originate from the reaction of cells to the Gram stain, a test long-employed for the classification of bacterial species.
Gram-positive bacteria possess a thick cell wall containing many layers of peptidoglycan and teichoic acids. In contrast, Gram-negative bacteria have a relatively thin cell wall consisting of a few layers of peptidoglycan surrounded by a second lipid membrane containing lipopolysaccharides and lipoproteins. Most bacteria have the Gram-negative cell wall and only the Firmicutes and Actinobacteria (previously known as the low G+C and high G+C Gram-positive bacteria, respectively) have the alternative Gram-positive arrangement. These differences in structure can produce differences in antibiotic susceptibility, for instance vancomycin can kill only Gram-positive bacteria and is ineffective against Gram-negative pathogens, such as Haemophilus influenzae or Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
One type of archaeal cell wall is that composed of pseudopeptidoglycan (also called pseudomurein). This type of wall is found in some methanogens, such as Methanobacterium and Methanothermus. While the overall structure of archaeal pseudopeptidoglycan superficially resembles that of bacterial peptidoglycan, there are a number of significant chemical differences. Like the peptidoglycan found in bacterial cell walls, pseudopeptidoglycan consists of polymer chains of glycan cross-linked by short peptide connections. However, unlike peptidoglycan, the sugar N-acetylmuramic acid is replaced by N-acetyltalosaminuronic acid, and the two sugars are bonded with a β,1-3 glycosidic linkage instead of β,1-4. Additionally, the cross-linking peptides are L-amino acids rather than D-amino acids as they are in bacteria.
A second type of archaeal cell wall is found in Methanosarcina and Halococcus. This type of cell wall is composed entirely of a thick layer of polysaccharides, which may be sulfated in the case of Halococcus. Structure in this type of wall is complex and as yet is not fully investigated.
A third type of wall among the Archaea consists of glycoprotein, and occurs in the hyperthermophiles, Halobacterium, and some methanogens. In Halobacterium, the proteins in the wall have a high content of acidic amino acids, giving the wall an overall negative charge. The result is an unstable structure that is stabilized by the presence of large quantities of positive sodium ions that neutralize the charge. Consequently, Halobacterium thrives only under conditions with high salinity.
In other Archaea, such as Methanomicrobium and Desulfurococcus, the wall may be composed only of surface-layer proteins, known as an S-layer. S-layers are common in bacteria, where they serve as either the sole cell-wall component or an outer layer in conjunction with peptidoglycan and murein. Most Archaea are Gram-negative, though at least one Gram-positive member is known.