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Animal and Plant Cells

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Animal and Plant Cells

Not all eukaryotes are the same! In this article, we will have a look at the similarities between plant and animal cells. We will also look at some animal and plant diagrams and make sure that we can also picture them visually - an important feat when we will have to identify them under the microscope or draw them for memory!

Structure of Plant and Animal Cells

All animals and plants are made up of cells, which are the building blocks of life.

Cells are the smallest unit of life that can perform all the essential functions of life, such as metabolism and reproduction.

All cells arise from pre-existing cells. The basic function of;

  • metabolism refers to cells taking in nutrients, converting those nutrients into energy, and excreting waste products.

  • reproduction means cells divide to allow organisms to grow and reproduce.

Human cells (yes, that's us!) are also a type of animal cell.

Animal and plant cells have many similarities but also some crucial differences. We will discuss cell structure first below and then highlight the significant differences.

Animal Cells

The following structures can be found in animal cells:

  • The cell membrane is the outermost layer of the animal cell, and it surrounds the cytoplasm.

  • The cytoplasm contains all the cell's organelles, including the nucleus.

  • The nuclear envelope surrounds the nucleus, which has the cell's genetic material.

  • The endoplasmic reticulum is a network of membranes that helps to transport proteins and fats throughout the cell.

  • The Golgi apparatus processes and packages proteins for secretion from the cell.

  • The mitochondria are responsible for generating energy for the cell.

  • A specialised structure called a lysosome breaks down food particles and unwanted material in the cell.

Animal cells typically have a smaller vacuole than plant cells and lack a cell wall.

Animal cells also have centrosomes and lysosomes. Centrosomes are involved in mitosis, and lysosomes are interested in clearing debris from the cell. These organelles are not found in plant cells.

Plant Cells

On the other hand, in addition to the above, plant cells also contain;

  • A cell wall made of cellulose arranged in a network. The cell wall is a layer of non-living material that covers the outside of the cell and provides support and protection.
  • A large central vacuole is a fluid-filled sac that helps maintain the cell's shape and store water, ions, and other molecules.
  • Plastids are organelles that contain pigment and perform photosynthesis. Chloroplasts are plastids that contain chlorophyll, which absorbs light energy from the sun and uses it to convert carbon dioxide into organic matter such as glucose.

Plant cells typically have more than one nucleus. Each nucleus contains chromosomes, which are long strands of DNA.

Cellulose is a long chain molecule made up of glucose units.

A way to distinguish between plant and animal cells is through the following:

  • A lack of a cell wall in animal cells as we can easily control and monitor the volume of water entering and leaving our cells. However, plant cells cannot do this. If too much water gets into a plant cell, it becomes turgid. If too much moisture leaves the plant cell, it becomes plasmolysed. Both of these processes can lead to the death of the plant cell. The cell wall in a plant cell prevents cell lysis.

    Lysis refers to the bursting of a cell. If too much water were to get into the plant cell, it would burst, so the plant cell wall prevents this.

  • The presence of a vacuole in plant cells contains cell sap; animal cells do not have cell sap and so do not have a permanent vacuole. The permanent vacuole is the largest organelle found in plant cells.
  • Chloroplasts contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis. You may recall that photosynthesis is the process by which plants use light energy to form valuable products such as sugars. Animal cells do not photosynthesise and so do not need chloroplasts.

Genetic Material

Animal and plant cells are eukaryotic cells. This means that their genetic material is found inside the cell's nucleus.

You can look at our articles on cell structure, and eukaryotes and prokaryotes if you need more information on the structure of these cells.

In animal cells, the nucleus is the largest organelle in the cell. This can help us to distinguish between animal cells and plant cells. In plant cells, the most prominent organelle is the vacuole.

Have a look at Figure 1, which shows an animal cell. Can you tell that the nucleus is the largest organelle?

We will discuss the genetic material of prokaryotic cells when we focus on them more in a different article. Just remember that the genetic material is found in the nucleus of eukaryotic cells (animal cells, plant cells, and fungal cells).

Similarities Between Plant and Animal Cells

Both types of cells are essential for life. Animal cells provide the energy needed to survive, while plant cells convert sunlight into food. In addition, animal and plant cells play a role in the immune system. Animal cells produce antibodies that help to fight off infection, while plant cells produce chemicals that can kill bacteria and viruses.

Both animal and plant cells are surrounded by a cell membrane, a thin layer that helps protect the cell and regulate what goes in and out. This means that their nucleus is membrane-bound.

Both types of cells also contain DNA, the genetic material that controls the functions of the cell.

Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

Some of the significant differences between animal and plant cells:

  • Motility: Essential differences between the two types of cells include that animal cells can move around, slide and bend, whereas plant cells are stationary relative to each other and can't migrate.

  • Rapid division differences: Animal cells typically divide more rapidly than plant cells. This is because different mechanisms control animal and plant cell divisions.

  • Photosynthesis: Plant cells also contain chloroplasts, which are organelles that help convert sunlight into energy for the cell. Animal cells do not have chloroplasts.

  • Shape: Animal cells are characterised by a higher shape irregularity when compared to plants.

Remember that plant cells contain a permanent vacuole or cell wall, while animal cells do not!

Plant and Animal Cells Labelled Diagrams

Plant and animal cell labelled diagrams are essential tools for understanding cells' structure and function. Diagrams help to visualise complex processes and can be used to supplement text-based descriptions.

Some consider animal cell lysosomes and plant lytic vacuoles as having similar functions, and thus being a similitude and not a difference.

You may use the diagram below to compare and contrast the features of different types of cells.

Examples for your exams

Remembering this lesson's content is good, but we also need to be able to apply this knowledge to exam questions and be aware of what we might get asked.

When looking through a microscope, what cell are you looking at?

We must be able to tell the difference between plant and animal cells. One simple way we can do this is by looking for the presence of a vacuole. When looking through a microscope or at an image of a cell, this will appear as a large space taking up most of the cell. If we can see this, then it must be a plant cell.

Remember that plant cells also have a cell wall; this may appear rigid when compared to the cell membrane of an animal cell.

The presence of a cell wall does not exclude fungal cells or prokaryotic cells if these are options! If looking at an image in colour, chloroplasts may also be present in a plant cell. Animal cells do not carry out photosynthesis and so do not have chloroplasts. These will appear green on an image.

Drawing plant and animal cells

When learning how to draw animal and plant cells, you can follow these steps to ensure you understand the various cells!

  1. Start by trying to label diagrams of already-drawn plant and animal cells.
  2. Make two lists. One list of all the organelles found in plant cells and one list of the organelles found in animal cells.

    Remember to include the organelles found in plant cells that are not in animal cells.

  3. Now, try to draw both an animal cell and a plant cell adding all the relevant organelles. Animal and plant cells are often similar, although some plant cells can be twice or three times larger than some animal cells. Bear this in mind when drawing your plant and animal cells!

    Look at all the diagrams in this article to help with the drawing.

Animal and Plant Cells - Key takeaways

  • Animal cells and plant cells are eukaryotic cells with more similarities than differences.
  • Despite their similarities, they end up looking different.
  • In plant cells, we find a vacuole, cell wall and chloroplasts.
  • In animal cells, we can find centrioles, lysosomes and centrosomes.
  • Similarities include having DNA, a cell membrane and performing the essential life functions of reproduction, immunity and energy production.

Frequently Asked Questions about Animal and Plant Cells

Animals and plants have millions of cells. Humans, for example, have 40 trillion on average, and as old ones die, new ones reproduce, with us barely noticing.

Plant cells contain a vacuole, chloroplasts and a cell wall. Animal cells do not have these organelles, but have centrioles, lysosomes and centrosomes.

Their cells do not move, they don't produce motile cells, and their shapes are regular.

Animal cells do not have a cell wall.

Animal cells have centrosomes and lysosomes. Centrosomes are involved in mitosis, and lysosomes are involved in clearing debris from the cell.

Final Animal and Plant Cells Quiz

Question

Do animal cells have a cell wall?


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Answer

Animal cells do not have a cell wall.

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Question

What is the difference between plant and animal cells?

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Answer

Plant cells contain a vacuole, chloroplasts and a cell wall. Animal cells do not have these organelles.

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Question

Are plant cells and animal cells prokaryotic or eukaryotic?


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Answer

Plant cells and animal cells are eukaryotic as their genetic material is found inside of a nucleus.

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Question

 Which organelle is not found in both animal and plant cells?


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Answer

Nucleus

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Question

Which of the following is found in animal cells but not plant cells?


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Answer

Vacuole

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Question

How can we differentiate between animal and plant cells?


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Answer

We can check for the presence of chloroplasts, a vacuole and a cell wall. If these organelles are present, it is a plant cell, if not, it is an animal cell. 

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Question

Are permanent vacuoles found in animal cells?


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Answer

Permanent vacuoles are not found in animal cells.

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Question

Are ribosomes found in animal or plant cells?

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Answer

Ribosomes are found in animal cells and plant cells.

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Question

Why do animal cells not have chloroplasts?


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Answer

Animal cells do not contain chloroplasts as they do not photosynthesize.

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Question

Are animal cells larger or smaller than plant cells?


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Answer

Animal cells and plant cells are a very similar size.

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Question

What organelles are found in animal cells but not plant cells?


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Answer

Centrosomes and lysosomes are found in animal cells but not plant cells.

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Question

Are cell walls only found in plant cells?

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Answer

No, cell walls can be found in fungal cells and prokaryotic cells as well as plant cells.

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Question

What is the function of chloroplasts in plant cells?



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Answer

Chloroplasts are the location for photosynthesis in plant cells.

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Question

How could we differentiate between plant and animal cells?


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Answer

To determine whether a cell is a plant cell or animal cell, we should look for a cell wall, permanent vacuole or chloroplasts. If any of these are present, we are looking at a plant cell, if not, we are looking at an animal cell.

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Question

What is a eukaryotic cell?

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Answer

A eukaryotic cell is a cell that contains a nucleus which stores its genetic material.

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Question

What is the largest organelle in a plant cell?


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Answer

The permanent vacuole is the largest organelle in the plant cell.

Show question

Question

What is the largest organelle in the animal cell?


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Answer

The nucleus is the largest organelle in the animal cell.

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