The Golgi apparatus (GA), also called Golgi body or Golgi complex and found universally in both plant and animal cells, is typically comprised of a series of five to eight cup-shaped, membrane-covered sacs called cisternae that look something like a stack of deflated balloons. In some unicellular flagellates, however, as many as 60 cisternae may combine to make up the Golgi apparatus. Similarly, the number of Golgi bodies in a cell varies according to its function. Animal cells generally contain between ten and twenty Golgi stacks per cell, which are linked into a single complex by tubular connections between cisternae. This complex is usually located close to the cell nucleus.
Due to its relatively large size, the Golgi apparatus was one of the first organelles ever observed. In 1897, an Italian physician named Camillo Golgi, who was investigating the nervous system by using a new staining technique he developed (and which is still sometimes used today; known as Golgi staining or Golgi impregnation), observed in a sample under his light microscope a cellular structure that he termed the internal reticular apparatus. Soon after he publicly announced his discovery in 1898, the structure was named after him, becoming universally known as the Golgi apparatus. Yet, many scientists did not believe that what Golgi observed was a real organelle present in the cell and instead argued that the apparent body was a visual distortion caused by staining. The invention of the electron microscope in the twentieth century finally confirmed that the Golgi apparatus is a cellular organelle.
The Golgi apparatus is often considered the distribution and shipping department for the cell's chemical products. It modifies proteins and lipids (fats) that have been built in the endoplasmic reticulum and prepares them for export outside of the cell or for transport to other locations in the cell. Proteins and lipids built in the smooth and rough endoplasmic reticulum bud off in tiny bubble-like vesicles that move through the cytoplasm until they reach the Golgi complex. The vesicles fuse with the Golgi membranes and release their internally stored molecules into the organelle. Once inside, the compounds are further processed by the Golgi apparatus, which adds molecules or chops tiny pieces off the ends. When completed, the product is extruded from the GA in a vesicle and directed to its final destination inside or outside the cell. The exported products are secretions of proteins or glycoproteins that are part of the cell's function in the organism. Other products are returned to the endoplasmic reticulum or may undergo maturation to become lysosomes.