The bacterial cell wall is made of thick, rigid peptidoglycan that maintains the cell’s shape, protects the cell interior, and prevents the cell from bursting during osmosis.
In most prokaryotic cells, the cell wall provides support and helps cells resist mechanical pressures, but they are not solid so that materials can pass through rather easily.
Cells that have a cell wall are better able to withstand subtle changes in osmotic pressure and maintain their shape. In hypertonic environments, cells can become dehydrated, causing crenation or shriveling of the cell.
In cells that lack a cell wall, changes in osmotic pressure can lead to crenation. Crenation happens particularly in hypertonic environments, whereas cell lysis happens in hypotonic environments.
By contrast, cells that possess a cell wall undergo plasmolysis rather than crenation. In plasmolysis, the plasma membrane contracts and detaches from the cell wall. There is a decrease in interior volume, thus allowing the cell to maintain some shape and integrity for a while. Likewise, cells that lack a cell wall are more prone to lysis in hypotonic environments.
In prokaryotic cells, the cell wall provides some protection against changes in osmotic pressure, allowing it to maintain its shape longer. The cell membrane is typically attached to the cell wall in an isotonic medium (left). In a hypertonic medium, the cell membrane detaches from the cell wall and contracts (plasmolysis) as water leaves the cell. In a hypotonic medium (right), the cell wall prevents the cell membrane from expanding to the point of bursting, although lysis will eventually occur if too much water is absorbed.
Penicillin can be used to break down the peptidoglycan wall as it inhibits the construction of the bacterial cell wall making the bacteria more prone to bursting.
MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)
Biology Question Pack, Vol 2. Question 43
• Bacterial cell walls are primarily composed of thick, rigid peptidoglycan.
• Most prokaryotic cells have a cell wall that helps the organism maintain cellular morphology and protects it against changes in osmotic pressure.
• The cell membrane changes shape when placed into different solutions based on their concentration of solutes, but the cell wall does not change due to its rigid structure.
• Penicillin inhibits the production of peptidoglycan in the cell wall.
Peptidoglycan: a polysaccharide-protein molecule
Plasmolysis: contraction of the membrane of a plant cell as a result of the loss of water from the cell
Osmosis: movement of water from a high concentration to low concentration over a semi-permeable membrane
Hypertonic: where the concentration of solutes is higher outside the cell than inside it
Crenation: shrinkage and acquire a notched or scalloped surface of a cell
Lysis: the disintegration of a cell by rupture of the cell wall or membrane.
Hypotonic: solution outside of a cell has a lower concentration of solutes relative to the cytosol