Red blood cell gives the blood its characteristic color and carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.
Red blood cells, also called erythrocyte, cellular component of blood, millions of which in the circulation of vertebrates give the blood its characteristic color and carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. The mature human red blood cell is small, round, and biconcave; it appears dumbbell-shaped in profile. The cell is flexible and assumes a bell shape as it passes through extremely small blood vessels. It is covered with a membrane composed of lipids and proteins, lacks a nucleus, and contains hemoglobin—a red iron-rich protein that binds oxygen.
The function of the red cell and its hemoglobin is to carry oxygen from the lungs or gills to all the body tissues and to carry carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, to the lungs, where it is excreted. In invertebrates, the oxygen-carrying pigment is carried free in the plasma; its concentration in red cells in vertebrates, so that oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged as gases, is more efficient and represents an important evolutionary development. The mammalian red cell is further adapted by lacking a nucleus—the amount of oxygen required by the cell for its own metabolism is thus very low, and most oxygen carried can be freed into the tissues. The biconcave shape of the cell allows oxygen exchange at a constant rate over the largest possible area.