In the absence of fossils, the cells of vertebrates are often described in lieu of a general animal eukaryote model, neglecting work on insects. However, a common ancestor is nearly a billion years in the past, making some vertebrate generalizations inappropriate for insects. For example, insect cells are adept at the cell remodeling needed for molting and metamorphosis, they have plasma membrane reticular systems and vacuolar ferritin, and their Golgi complexes continue to work during mitosis. This review stresses the ways that insect cells differ from those of vertebrates, summarizing the structure of surfacce membranes and vacuolar systems, especially of the epidermis and fat body, as a prerequisite for the molecular studies needed to understand cell function. The objective is to provide a structural base from which molecular biology can emerge from biochemical description into a useful analysis of function.


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