- The word chloroplast is derived from the Greek words chloros, which means green, and plastes, which means “the one who forms”.
- Chloroplasts are a type of membrane-bound plastids that contain a network of membranes embedded into a liquid matrix and harbor the photosynthetic pigment called chlorophyll.
- It is this pigment that imparts a green color to plant parts and serves to capture light energy.
- Chloroplasts can be found in the cells of the mesophyll in plant leaves.
- There are usually 30-40 per mesophyll cells.
Figure: Diagram of Chloroplasts
Structure of Chloroplasts
- Chloroplasts found in higher plants are generally biconvex or planoconvex shaped.
- In different plants, however, chloroplasts may have different shapes, varying from spheroid, filamentous saucer-shaped, discoid or ovoid-shaped.
- They can be found in the cells of the mesophyll in plant leaves. They are vesicular and have a colorless center.
- The average size of the chloroplast is 4-6 Âµ in diameter and 1-3 Âµ in thickness.
The chloroplast has an inner and outer membrane with an empty intermediate space in between. Inside the chloroplast are stacks of thylakoids, called grana, as well as stroma, the dense fluid inside of the chloroplast. These thylakoids contain the chlorophyll that is necessary for the plant to go through photosynthesis. The space the chlorophyll fills is called the thylakoid space.
A chloroplast thus has the following parts:
- Envelope (Outer membrane)
It is a semi-porous membrane and is permeable to small molecules and ions, which diffuses easily. The outer membrane is not permeable to larger proteins.
- Intermembrane Space
It is usually a thin inter-membrane space about 10-20 nanometers and it is present between the outer and the inner membrane of the chloroplast.
- Inner membrane
The inner membrane of the chloroplast forms a border to the stroma. It regulates the passage of materials in and out of the chloroplast. In addition to regulation activity, fatty acids, lipids, and carotenoids are synthesized in the inner chloroplast membrane.
Stroma is an alkaline, aqueous fluid that is protein-rich and is present within the inner membrane of the chloroplast. The space outside the thylakoid space is called the stroma. The chloroplast DNA chloroplast ribosomes and the thylakoid system, starch granules and many proteins are found floating around the stroma.
- Thylakoid System
The thylakoid system is suspended in the stroma. The thylakoid system is a collection of membranous sacs called thylakoids. The chlorophyll is found in the thylakoids and is the sight for the process of light reactions of photosynthesis to happen. The thylakoids are arranged in stacks known as grana. Each granum contains around 10-20 thylakoids.
The chloroplasts of certain plants contain an additional set of membranous tubules called peripheral reticulum that originates from the inner membrane of the envelope. Tiny vesicles bud off from the inner membrane of the chloroplast and assemble to form the tubules of the peripheral reticulum.
Functions of Chloroplasts
- Chloroplasts are the sites for photosynthesis, which comprises a set of light-dependent and light-independent reactions to harness solar energy and convert it into chemical energy.
- The components of chloroplast participate in several regulatory functions of the cell as well as in photorespiration.
- Chloroplasts also provide diverse metabolic activities for plant cells, including the synthesis of fatty acids, membrane lipids, isoprenoids, tetrapyrroles, starch, and hormones.
- Plants lack specialized immune cells—all plant cells participate in the plant response.
- The chloroplasts with the nucleus and cell membrane and ER are the key organelles of pathogen defense.
- Chloroplasts can serve as cellular sensors.
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- Alberts, B. (2004). Essential cell biology. New York, NY: Garland Science Pub.