Vacuole is a physical component of plant and animal cells. It is one of those few cellular properties that are found in both plants and animals. However, the vacuoles found in plants are much larger than those found in animals.
What is a Vacuole?
A vacuole is a small sac like structure in plant cells that stores food or nutrients, water and also waste. Imagine a backpack with all your essential nutrients and water. You may also imagine a microscopic bin that contains all the waste material generated by a plant or animal cell which would then be got rid of.
Purpose of Vacuoles
The purpose of vacuoles is pretty straightforward. It stores water for the cell. As and when needed, it releases the water to be used by the plant, either for photosynthesis or any other circulatory need. Vacuoles also store the food for the plants. It releases the nutrients as and when necessary for the cell. Every cell has a vacuole. The same vacuole also stores the waste materials generated so the entire cell doesn’t get contaminated by the toxins or get affected in any way by the undesirable waste material which must be got rid of. A vacuole may also break down the waste into smaller bits so it is easier to get rid of. Smaller bits of waste matter or toxins pose a much reduced threat to the health, structure and integrity of the plant cell.
Significance of Vacuoles
A vacuole can be considered as a treasure trove for plant cells or a detoxifying chamber when waste material is stored. Vacuoles are not only responsible for the supply of nutrition to the plant cells and getting rid of toxins but they also contribute to the physical structure or form of the plant cell. Every plant cell has a membrane or wall that contains various components. Every component lends to the structural form and integrity of the cell. While the cell wall protects the overall structure or shape, it is the components that are responsible for the overall well being and retaining of the structure.
When a vacuole is healthy and filled with water or nutrients, it will ensure that the plant cell has its optimum form and integrity. If vacuoles start to shrink because of lack of water or nutrients then the size and shape of the plant cell will also shrink. When you see a drooping plant, it could be due to a shrunk vacuole. The cells will be capable of retaining their original size and form if the vacuoles get filled up again with water, nutrients and then waste.