What is a Peroxisome?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A peroxisome is a specialized structure inside a cell which helps to rid the body of the host organism of toxins. In animals, peroxisomes are often especially concentrated in the neighborhood of the liver and kidneys, the filtration centers for toxins. In plants, peroxisomes assist with photosynthesis. In either instance, a peroxisome disorder can be a serious problem, as these structures are crucial to the wellbeing of much of life on Earth.

Peroxisomes assist with photosynthesis in plants.
Peroxisomes assist with photosynthesis in plants.

Like other specialized structures inside a cell, a peroxisome is considered to be an example of an organelle. Essentially, organelles are like miniature organs inside the cell, just as their name suggests, and they perform many of the same functions that major organs do, only on a much smaller scale. When viewed under a microscope, it is possible to see that peroxisomes are roughly spherical in shape, and they are surrounded by an envelope of lipids and proteins which protects the rest of the cell from the activity inside the peroxisome.

Under a microscope, peroxisome are seen to be spherical in shape.
Under a microscope, peroxisome are seen to be spherical in shape.

These structures were first firmly identified in 1967, a decade after they had been described by a Swedish doctoral student. The peroxisome is rather a unique organelle, because it is capable of replicating itself, much like DNA. When more peroxisomes are needed in a cell, the existing peroxisomes can grow and then split themselves to meet the need.

When a peroxisome absorbs a toxin, it oxidizes it, converting it to hydrogen peroxide. However, hydrogen peroxide isn't a very healthy thing to have floating around in the body in large amounts, so peroxisomes are also capable of breaking down hydrogen peroxide, turning it into useful water and oxygen which can be utilized by the cell for a variety of tasks or expressed, if the body has an excess.

Peroxisomes are part of the process of cell metabolism, which keeps cells running smoothly to ensure that they have enough energy to perform their functions. With peroxisomes on the fritz, people can develop disorders related to a buildup of lipids and other toxins in their bodies. This can manifest in the form of a variety of conditions, including the neurological disorder known as Zellweger Syndrome.

In humans and other animals, peroxisomes are often especially concentrated in the neighborhood of the liver and kidneys, the filtration centers for toxins.
In humans and other animals, peroxisomes are often especially concentrated in the neighborhood of the liver and kidneys, the filtration centers for toxins.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon355153

I read somewhere that peroxisomes are distributed throughout the cell. Is that true?

anon220362

They are located along with the lysosomes in the cytoplasm. They are usually present near the golgi apparatus.

anon137583

Where is the peroxisome located in the cell?

anon63849

how does proxisome perform inside the cell?

anon21375

what do peroxisomes do in a euglena?

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