Red blood cells (also known as RBCs, red blood corpuscles or erythrocytes) are cells in the blood which transport oxygen. In women, there are about 4.8 million red blood cells per microliter of blood. In men, there are 5.4 million red blood cells per microliter of blood. Red blood cells are red because they have hemoglobin in them.
The most important function of red blood cells is the transport of oxygen (O2) to the tissues. The hemoglobin absorbs oxygen in the lungs. Then it travels through blood vessels and brings oxygen to all other cells via the heart. The blood cells go through the lungs (to collect oxygen), through the heart (to give all cells oxygen). They go back to the heart to be re-pumped to the lungs (to again collect oxygen), so the blood in your body travels in a double circuit, going through your heart twice before it completes one full circulation of the body.
Red blood cells are doughnut-shaped, but without the hole. This shape is called a bi-concave disc. However, hereditary diseases such as sickle-cell disease can cause them to change shapes and stop blood flow in capillaries and veins. Plasma is got from whole blood. To prevent clotting, an anticoagulant (such as citrate) is added to the blood immediately after it is taken.
Mammalian RBCs are unique among vertebrates as they are non-nucleated cells in their mature form. These cells have nuclei during development, but push them out as they mature. This gives more space for haemoglobin. Mammalian RBCs also lose all other cellular organelles such as their mitochondria, Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum.
As a result of not having mitochondria, the cells use none of the oxygen they carry. Instead they produce the energy carrier ATP. Because they lack nuclei and organelles, mature red blood cells do not contain DNA and cannot synthesize any RNA. They cannot divide, and have limited repair capabilities. This also makes sure no virus can target mammalian red blood cells.
Transport of CO2 in the blood
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is carried in blood in three different ways. The exact percentages vary depending whether it is arterial or venous blood.
- Most of it (about 68% to 83%) is converted to bicarbonate ions HCO−
3 by the enzyme carbonic anhydrase in the red blood cells. by the reaction CO2 + H2O → H2CO3 → H+ + HCO−
- 5% – 10% is dissolved in the blood plasma.
- 5% – 10% is bound to haemoglobin as carbamino compounds.
Images for kids
Scanning electron micrograph of human red blood cells (ca. 6–8 μm in diameter)
Animation of a typical human red blood cell cycle in the circulatory system. This animation occurs at a faster rate (~20 seconds of the average 60-second cycle) and shows the red blood cell deforming as it enters capillaries, as well as the bars changing color as the cell alternates in states of oxygenation along the circulatory system.
Red blood cell Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.