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Superkingdom Eukaryotae


autotrophs, heterotrophs, exocytosis, amoebas, endocytosis

To function, eukaryotes need organic molecules: carbohydrates such as sugar and starch; proteins; lipids, which include fats and oils; and nucleic acids such as DNA. Sugars such as glucose are particularly important because eukaryotes use energy from sugar to build proteins, lipids, and other organic molecules. Photosynthetic eukaryotes are known as autotrophs, a group that includes plants, seaweeds, and microscopic algae, all of which can make their own sugar. Those that must take in sugar from outside sources are called heterotrophs. Among the heterotrophs are many single-celled eukaryotes, and all fungi and animals.

Heterotrophic eukaryotes typically absorb the nutrients in food through the plasma membrane. To accomplish this task, they must first break down, or digest, the food. Fungi secrete digestive enzymes onto the surface of their food—often decaying leaves or branches—and then absorb the enzyme-released nutrients across the cell wall and plasma membrane. In contrast, animals first ingest their food into some sort of digestive structure such as the stomach. There, digestive enzymes break down the food, and the nutrients are then absorbed into the cells.

Some single-celled eukaryotes, such as amoebas, use a process called endocytosis. In endocytosis, these organisms extrude part of the plasma membrane, scoop up a food particle, and drag it into the cell, where they digest it using enzymes within the cell. In these eukaryotes, large waste molecules typically are expelled from the cell by a reverse process called exocytosis. The waste is bundled into a sac called a vesicle and transported to the plasma membrane, where it fuses with the membrane. The waste is then expelled through a hole in the fused membrane. In complex animals, cells generate wastes such as urea when nutrients are broken down within cells. These wastes are transported by blood to the kidneys. The kidneys process the waste and produce urine, which is removed from the body through the bladder. Undigested food travels through the tubelike intestines and is eliminated through the digestive system.

Article key phrases:

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