Q:

Why can cells only grow to a certain size?

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Quick Answer

Cell size is limited by the surface area to volume ratio, the nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio, the fragility of the cell membrane and the structures that hold the cell together. Each of these factors works in conjunction to limit the ability of the cell to support a larger size, according to Ivy-Rose Holistic.

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Full Answer

The larger a cell gets, the smaller its surface area to volume ratio becomes. This is important because nutrients entering the surface of the cell must increase as the volume of cytoplasm increases. However, the increase in surface area in the growing cell cannot keep up with the increase in volume, essentially starving the cell if it becomes too large.

The nucleus controls all activity in the cytoplasm and is only able to maintain control in the correct nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio. Ivy-Rose Holistic notes that some cells have overcome this problem by developing more than one nucleus. An example of these multinucleate cells would be muscle cells.

The cell membrane controls all substances that enter and leave a cell. The cell membrane is relatively fragile, easily affected by things such as temperature and water pressure. Increasing the size of the cell increases the risk to the cell membrane, effectively limiting the size of the cell.

The cell is also limited in size by the size of internal and external structures that help support the cell. Examples of these structures include the cytoskeleton and glycocalyx.

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