Unit: Cells

(reorganized from the College Board AP Biology Curriculum Framework 2012 by David Knuffke) (Changes to the 2015 Framework are in RED)


Jump to: Lesson 2: Organelle Functions; Lesson 3: Cell Membranes: Lesson 4: Transport; Lesson 5: Cell Communication; Not on the National Exam


Lesson 1: Cell Anatomy

Enduring understanding 2.B: Growth, reproduction and dynamic homeostasis require that cells create and maintain internal environments that are different from their external environments.

Essential knowledge 2.B.3: Eukaryotic cells maintain internal membranes that partition the cell into specialized regions.

a. Internal membranes facilitate cellular processes by minimizing competing interactions and by increasing surface area where reactions can occur.

b. Membranes and membrane-bound organelles in eukaryotic cells localize (compartmentalize) intracellular metabolic processes and specific enzymatic reactions. [See also 4.A.2]

To foster student understanding of this concept, instructors can choose an illustrative

example, such as:

c. Archaea and Bacteria generally lack internal membranes and organelles and have a cell wall.

Learning Objectives:

LO 2.13 The student is able to explain how internal membranes and organelles

contribute to cell functions. [See SP 6.2]

LO 2.14 The student is able to use representations and models to describe

differences in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. [See SP 1.2, 1.4]



Lesson 2: Organelle Functions

Enduring understanding 4.A: Interactions within biological systems lead to complex properties.


Essential knowledge 4.A.2: The structure and function of subcellular components, and their interactions, provide essential cellular processes.

a. Ribosomes are small, universal structures comprised of two interacting parts: ribosomal RNA and protein. In a sequential manner, these cellular components interact to become the site of protein synthesis where the translation of the genetic instructions yields specific polypeptides. [See also 2.B.3]

b. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) occurs in two forms: smooth and rough. [See also 2.B.3]

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Rough endoplasmic reticulum functions to compartmentalize the cell, serves as mechanical support, provides site-specific protein synthesis with membrane-bound ribosomes and plays a role in intracellular transport.

2. In most cases, smooth ER synthesizes lipids.

c. The Golgi complex is a membrane-bound structure that consists of a series of flattened membrane sacs (cisternae). [See also 2.B.3]

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of the following:

1. Functions of the Golgi include synthesis and packaging of materials (small molecules) for transport (in vesicles), and production of lysosomes.

d. Mitochondria specialize in energy capture and transformation. [See also 2.A.2, 2.B.3]

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Mitochondria have a double membrane that allows compartmentalization within the mitochondria and is important to its function.

2. The outer membrane is smooth, but the inner membrane is highly convoluted, forming folds called cristae.

3. Cristae contain enzymes important to ATP production; cristae also increase the surface area for ATP production.

e. Lysosomes are membrane-enclosed sacs that contain hydrolytic enzymes, which are important in intracellular digestion, the recycling of a cell’s organic materials and programmed cell death (apoptosis). Lysosomes carry out intracellular digestion in a variety of ways. [See also 2.B.3]

f. A vacuole is a membrane-bound sac that plays roles in intracellular digestion and the release of cellular waste products. In plants, a large vacuole serves many functions, from storage of pigments or poisonous substances to a role in cell growth. In addition, a large central vacuole allows for a large surface area to volume ratio. [See also 2. A.3, 2.B.3]

g. Chloroplasts are specialized organelles found in algae and higher plants that capture energy through photosynthesis. [See also 2.A.2, 2 B.3]

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. The structure and function relationship in the chloroplast allows cells to capture the energy available in sunlight and convert it to chemical bond energy via photosynthesis.

2. Chloroplasts contain chlorophylls, which are responsible for the green color of a plant and are the key light-trapping molecules in photosynthesis. There are several types of chlorophyll, but the predominant form in plants is chlorophyll a.

3. Chloroplasts have a double outer membrane that creates a compartmentalized structure, which supports its function. Within the chloroplasts are membrane-bound structures called thylakoids. Energy-capturing reactions housed in the thylakoids are organized in stacks, called “grana,” to produce ATP and NADPH2, which fuel carbon-fixing reactions in the Calvin-Benson cycle. Carbon fixation occurs in the stroma, where molecules of CO2 are converted to carbohydrates.


Learning Objectives:

LO 4.4 The student is able to make a prediction about the interactions of

subcellular organelles. [See SP 6.4]

LO 4.5 The student is able to construct explanations based on scientific evidence as to how interactions of subcellular structures provide essential functions. [See SP 6.2]

LO 4.6 The student is able to use representations and models to analyze situations qualitatively to describe how interactions of subcellular structures, which possess specialized functions, provide essential functions. [See SP 1.4]


Lesson 3: Cell Membranes

Enduring understanding 2.B: Growth, reproduction and dynamic homeostasis require that cells create and maintain internal environments that are different from their external environments.

Essential knowledge 2.B.1: Cell membranes are selectively permeable due to their structure.

a. Cell membranes separate the internal environment of the cell from the external environment.

b. Selective permeability is a direct consequence of membrane structure, as described by the fluid mosaic model. [See also 4.A.1]

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Cell membranes consist of a structural framework of phospholipid molecules, embedded proteins, cholesterol, glycoproteins and glycolipids.

2. Phospholipids give the membrane both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties. 3. The hydrophilic phosphate portions of the phospholipids are oriented toward the aqueous external or internal environments, while the hydrophobic fatty acid portions face each other within the interior of the membrane itself.

4. Embedded proteins can be hydrophilic, with charged and polar side groups, or hydrophobic, with nonpolar side groups.

5. Small, uncharged polar molecules and small nonpolar molecules, such as N2, freely pass across the membrane. Hydrophilic substances such as large polar molecules and ions move across the membrane through embedded channel and transport proteins. Water moves across membranes and through channel proteins called aquaporins.

c. Cell walls provide a structural boundary, as well as a permeability barrier for some substances to the internal environments.

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Plant cell walls are made of cellulose and are external to the cell membrane.

2. Other examples are cells walls of prokaryotes and fungi.


Learning Objectives:

LO 2.10 The student is able to use representations and models to pose scientific questions about the properties of cell membranes and selective permeability based on molecular structure. [See SP 1.4, 3.1]

LO 2.11 The student is able to construct models that connect the movement of molecules across membranes with membrane structure and function. [See SP 1.1, 7.1, 7.2]


Lesson 4: Transport

Enduring understanding 2.B: Growth, reproduction and dynamic homeostasis require that cells create and maintain internal environments that are different from their external environments.


Essential knowledge 2.B.2: Growth and dynamic homeostasis are maintained by the constant movement of molecules across membranes.

a. Passive transport does not require the input of metabolic energy; the net movement of molecules is from high concentration to low concentration.

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Passive transport plays a primary role in the import of resources and the export of wastes.

2. Membrane proteins play a role in facilitated diffusion of charged and polar molecules through a membrane.

To foster student understanding of this concept, instructors can choose an

illustrative example such as:

3. External environments can be hypotonic, hypertonic or isotonic to internal environments of cells.

b. Active transport requires free energy to move molecules from regions of low concentration to regions of high concentration.

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. Active transport is a process where free energy (often provided by ATP) is used by proteins embedded in the membrane to “move” molecules and/or ions across the membrane and to establish and maintain concentration gradients.

2. Membrane proteins are necessary for active transport.

c. The processes of endocytosis and exocytosis move large molecules from the external environment to the internal environment and vice versa, respectively.

Evidence of student learning is a demonstrated understanding of each of the following:

1. In exocytosis, internal vesicles fuse with the plasma membrane to secrete large macromolecules out of the cell.

2. In endocytosis, the cell takes in macromolecules and particulate matter by forming new vesicles derived from the plasma membrane.


Learning Objective:

LO 2.12 The student is able to use representations and models to analyze situations or solve problems qualitatively and quantitatively to investigate whether dynamic homeostasis is maintained by the active movement of molecules across membranes. [See SP 1.4]




Untested by the College Board on the national AP Biology Exam:

There is no particular membrane protein that is required for teaching facilitated diffusion and active transport.

No particular system is required for teaching the concepts in 3.D.3.b. Teachers are free to choose a system that best fosters student understanding.

Specific functions of smooth ER in specialized cells are beyond the scope of the course and the AP Exam

The role of this organelle in specific phospholipid synthesis and the packaging of enzymatic contents of lysosomes, peroxisomes and secretory vesicles are beyond the scope of the course and the AP Exam.

Specific examples of how lysosomes carry out intracellular digestion are beyond the scope of the course and the AP Exam.

The molecular structure of chlorophyll a is beyond the scope of the course and the AP Exam.