A lot of the time, when studying complex subjects, it can help to use an analogy. Lysosomes are one topic in biology that can be tricky to understand fully without the help of an analogy.
Analogies are great tools for teaching complex concepts in simpler terms that are easy for everyone to understand.
In this article, we will be explaining what a lysosome is and how it works. We’ll then explain why it might benefit you to use an analogy if you want to remember how lysosomes function before sharing the best analogy for lysosomes!
What Is A Lysosome?
A lysosome is an organelle that can be found inside the cells of animals. An organelle, or course, is a cellular structure that contributes to the cell’s ability to function.
There can be anywhere between 50 and 1,000 lysosomes in the cells of any mammal. These organelles are considered to be some of the most important cell structures when it comes to protecting the cell from external attacks.
The lysosome’s job is to essentially digest any molecules that could cause harm to the cell.
Pathogens and free radicals are some of the most common dangerous molecules that regularly threaten animal cells. When lysosomes target and digest these harmful molecules, this is known as phagocytosis.
Lysosomes also perform an important cellular process called autophagy. This is where the cell actually digests or destroys itself using the lysosomes’ lytic enzymes when a pathogenic agent is registered or when the cell has become infected. In this situation, the lysosomes cause the cell to sacrifice itself to stop any other neighboring cells from being infected.
Why Use Analogies?
An analogy is a comparison made between two different things because they have something in common. They often involve the use of metaphors.
Analogies are very useful teaching tools because they help to explain unfamiliar concepts by comparing them to more familiar concepts.
A common and simple analogy would be ‘puppy is to dog as kitten is to cat’. This analogy compares the relationship between puppies and adult dogs to kittens and adult cats.
If somebody didn’t understand what a puppy was but knew what a kitten was, this analogy would help them to understand that puppies are juvenile dogs, the same way that kittens are juvenile cats.
Of course, this is an incredibly simple example that isn’t related to any scientific concept. However, it is possible to use analogies to explain more complicated biological concepts in a way that is easier to understand without an extensive base of scientific knowledge.
The Best Lysosome Analogies
If you want to understand lysosomes easily yourself or explain them to other people in a way that everyone can understand, the best analogy to use is that of the recycle bin on your computer.
The recycle bin on your computer or laptop is a storage space for files that you no longer want or that your computer has automatically flagged as dangerous.
If you’re wondering how this relates to lysosomes, it’s because lysosomes, as we mentioned earlier, contain lytic enzymes.
Now, while lytic enzymes serve a very important purpose (autophagy) which can prevent many other cells from succumbing to infection and being destroyed, the enzymes need to be contained inside the lysosomes because they would begin to destroy the cell if they were left unguarded in the cell’s cytoplasm.
In addition to lytic enzymes, lysosomes contain other harmful substances that they have absorbed through the process of phagocytosis (digesting dangerous molecules).
This is just one more reason why the lysosomes of a cell can be viewed as the equivalent of a computer’s recycle bin: they contain dangerous substances (files) that could damage other cells (the system) if left to their own devices.
You could also think about the lysosome inside an animal cell in the context of the organs inside the human body. If you imagine that a single cell is equal to your body, the lysosomes would be represented by the spleen or stomach.
When red blood cells have circulated through the human body for roughly 4 months, they travel to the spleen. The spleen then destroys the cells to make room for the fresh cells that are already being produced.
Similarly, the stomach is responsible for digesting food so that it can be absorbed by the rest of the body.
Both the spleen and the stomach perform similar functions in the human body as lysosomes do in mammalian cells: they store, digest, and destroy so that the body can continue to function optimally.
So, the next time you need to remember or explain what role lysosomes play in animal cells, think of lysosomes either as the recycle bin on your computer or as your own stomach or spleen!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Animals Have Cells With Lysosomes?
Lysosomes are found in the cells of eukaryotic organisms for the most part. A eukaryotic animal is an animal with cells that contain nuclear envelopes with nuclei inside.
All animals are eukaryotic, and since the vast majority of the cells in a eukaryote contain lysosomes (with the exception of red blood cells), most animal cells have lysosomes.
Do Plant Cells Have Lysosomes?
Some plant cells do have lysosomes, but this is very rare. This is because plant cells have cell walls, which animal cells do not. The cell walls of a plant cell are generally sufficient to prevent infection from external molecules.
Do White Blood Cells Contain Lysosomes?
White blood cells have more lysosomes than most cells because white blood cells are responsible for identifying and targeting infection within the body. This means that they need more lysosomes to digest dangerous cells and substances.
If you want to use an analogy to explain or solidify your understanding of lysosomes, the best analogies are that of the computer recycle bin or the spleen/stomach inside the human body.
Lysosomes store and destroy dangerous substances that could cause illness in the body. The same could be said for the recycle bin on your computer, where files are stored so that they don’t harm the computer system.
The stomach and spleen are also responsible for storing and destroying/breaking down substances that can’t be used by the body as they are.
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