How Are Cellular Processes Run Inside a Cell?

Image Credit: Socha, Arek (artist). (2016). DNA String Biology [digital art]. Retrieved from

As you’ve already learned, cells carry out every single function in your body necessary for life. The work of cells allows you to move your body, digest your food, circulate blood, breathe, talk, and think. We’ve also learned about the functions that allow a cell to keep living; things like cellular respiration, transporting substances in and out of the cell, and generating proteins.

But how are these vital cellular functions regulated? What tells the cell what to do and when to do it?

Part of the answer can be found in the cell’s nucleus, where the DNA is kept. DNA is essentially an instruction and recipe book for the cell. Enzymes copy the DNA’s genetic code into RNA, and then ribosomes use this “script” to generate proteins that help regulate cellular processes. Which proteins are made, how many proteins are made, and when proteins are made help determine when different activities occur inside the cell.

Cellular processes can also be regulated from outside via hormones. Hormones serve as the body’s chemical messengers and can carry messages to large numbers of cells throughout the body at once. For example, the hormone insulin tells cells to take in more glucose (a type of sugar) by sending more glucose receptors to the surface of their plasma membranes.

Hormones are able to coordinate cell function on a large, body-wide scale, while DNA instructions regulate cell activity from within on a smaller scale.

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