Plastids and Chloroplasts

  • Robert A. Reid
  • Rachel M. Leech
Part of the Tertiary Level Biology book series (TLB)


The possession of at least one form of plastid within its cytoplasm has been suggested as the feature which most clearly distinguishes a eukaryotic plant cell from an animal cell. Certainly no living cell of a higher plant has so far been described which completely lacks plastids. Plastids are often more or less spherical or disc-shaped (1 µm to 1 mm in diameter), but may be elongated or lobed and frequently show amoeboid characteristics, particularly in developing tissue. They can be distinguished from other cellular organelles by their double bounding membranes, the possession of plastoglobuli (spherical lipid droplets) and by the presence of an internal membrane fretwork of several discrete internal vesicles. Every tissue of a plant has more than one plastid type and during the life cycle of a plant as many as 10 to 15 different plastids may function in its cells. The life cycle of a radish seedling is shown in figure 3.1 to illustrate the variety of plastids in its tissues. The chloroplasts—plastids whose internal membranes contain chlorophyll—are functionally and structurally the most complex plastids and, because of their unique role in mediating photosynthesis, have been the most thoroughly investigated. A myriad of other forms of plastid have also been recognized by morphologists and given names largely based on their structural features or on the pigments they contain. Many were first described by the eighteenth and nineteenth-century microscopists. Their appearance in thin sections is illustrated in figure 3.2.


Thylakoid Membrane Phosphatidyl Choline Envelope Membrane Bundle Sheath Cell Chloroplast Envelope 


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Further Reading

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Copyright information

© R. A. Reid and R. M. Leech 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert A. Reid
    • 1
  • Rachel M. Leech
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of YorkEngland

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