Plant Cells vs. Animal Cells, With Diagrams

Updated on June 8, 2016

Cells have often been referred to as "the building blocks of life", which indeed they are. All forms of life, from simple bacteria to human beings, are made up of cells. What is remarkable is that, despite their apparent differences, plant and animal life are made up of cells that are actually the same in most respects.

The most important structures of plant and animal cells are shown in the diagrams below, which provide a clear illustration of how much these cells have in common. The significant differences between plant and animal cells are also shown. The diagrams are followed by more in-depth information.

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The structures within the cell, such as the nucleus and mitochondria, are known as organelles. The diagram above is of a "generic" animal cell. In both animals and plants, cells generally become specialized to perform certain functions. Nerve cells, bone cells and liver cells, for example, all develop in ways that enable them to better perform their specific duties. Most animal cells, however, contain the structures shown in the diagram.

Below is a "generic" plant cell diagram. The structure of plant cells can vary during the early stages of growth. This diagram depicts a mature plant cell.

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Eukaryotic Cells

Eukaryotic cells are cells that contain a well-defined nucleus, and in which the other organelles are held together by membranes. Plants and animals are both eukaryotes, and as you can see, their cells are quite similar in many ways. Organelles that can be found in both plant and animal cells include the following:

  • Cell Membrane: surrounds and protects the contents of the cell. The membrane is selectively permeable, meaning that it allows certain molecules to pass through it and enter the cell, while preventing others from doing so.
  • Cytoplasm: the fluid which fills the cell, in which the organelles are suspended.
  • Nucleus: the cell's command center, regulating the various processes within the cell. The nucleus, which also contains most of the cell's genetic material, is usually located near the center of animal cells, and closer to the edge in plants.
  • Mitochondria: converts food into energy. Active cells, which require more energy, usually contain a greater number of mitochondria. Plant cells tend to have fewer mitochondria than animal cells. Mitochondria also contain a small amount of DNA, and therefore play a role in genetics.
  • Ribosomes: generate proteins from amino acids. Some ribosomes are attached to the endoplasmic reticulum, others float freely within the cytoplasm.
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum: a series of sacs and tubes used to process substances such as protein and lipids, and transport them to the golgi bodies for distribution to other locations. The area where ribosomes are attached is called the rough endoplasmic reticulum. The area without ribosomes is known as the smooth endoplasmic reticulum.
  • Golgi Bodies: location where substances received from the endoplasmic reticulum are processed and carried to the proper location within the cell, or out of the cell altogether.
  • Vacuoles: sacs which serve as storage units. When found in animal cells, vacuoles are tiny, and are used to carry substances out of the cell, or to engulf undesirable substances such as bacteria or bits of dead tissue. In plant cells, the vacuole plays a much larger role, which is described in the section below.

Primary Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

Plant cells have to perform two functions not required of animal cells:

  1. Produce their own food (which they do in a process called photosynthesis).
  2. Support their own weight (which animals usually do by means of a skeleton).

The structures possessed by plant cells for performing these two functions create the primary differences between plant and animals cells. These structures are:

  • Cell Wall: a wall on the outside of the membrane, which, in combination with the vacuole (as described below), helps the cell maintain its shape and rigidity.
  • Plastids: used in photosynthesis to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into food. The most well-known plastids are chloroplasts, which contain the chlorophyll that gives many plants their green hue.
  • Large Vacuole: while animal cells may have many tiny vacuoles, a plant cell usually has a single large vacuole, which serves as a storage tank for food, water, waste products and other materials. The vacuole has an important structural function, as well. When filled with water, the vacuole exerts internal pressure against the cell wall, which helps keep the cell rigid. A plant that is wilting has vacuoles that are no longer filled with water.

Centrioles

Animal cells contain organelles known as centrioles, which are not present in plant cells. Centrioles, which help move chromosomes during cell division, are generally only visible when an animal cell is actually dividing.

It is believed that because animal cells, which are softer than plant cells, can change shape, centrioles are required to ensure that the chromosomes are in the proper location when the cell divides. Plant cells, with their more fixed shape, can safely assume that the chromosomes are correctly positioned without the use of such a mechanism.

Plants and Animals: Common Ancestor

How is it that plant and animal cells have so much in common? As hard as it may be to imagine, biologists believe that at an early point in the evolution of life on earth, plants and animals once shared a common ancestor. All life on earth, it seems, truly is related.

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        Glen Nunes 2 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Thanks rawspirit! I'm glad you found the hub useful, and I hope your presentation went well.

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        sriramapriya 3 years ago from India

        Use full information for students from for classes 7th to +2. and also every one who are touch with Biology. Am a Biology teacher n Trainer, in textbook we will some information. by reading this article we can get to know more. difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic and also difference between plant cell and animal cell. important questions in every exam in India, Andhra Pradesh.

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        Glen Nunes 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        feri, that's a very good question. There are many details to the answer, and I may write another hub to give a more complete answer, but in short: plant and animal cells are both eukaryotes, and the processes of growth, respiration and locomotion are quite similar in all eukaryotic cells. The means by which plant and animal cells acquire nutrients (photosynthesis vs eating) are very different, however.

        A common problem is to confuse respiration with photosynthesis. As you know, the process of photosynthesis in plants takes in CO2 and releases oxygen, the opposite of what animals do when they breathe. But plants, like animals, also have a respiration process, in which oxygen goes in and CO2 comes out.

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        feri 3 years ago

        very nice explanation it's very easy to learn thing by diagram but i have a doubtful question please answer this what is difference between plant andanimal cell? (a)growth (b)respiration (c)locomotion (d)nutrition i can't understand the bcz answer is (d) what is the reason bcz a,b,c, is also differenciate

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        Glen Nunes 3 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Thanks for the support Jyoti. Glad you found the hub interesting.

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        Jyoti Kothari 3 years ago from Jaipur

        Interesting information. It will especially help students learning biology. Rated up and interesting.

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        Glen Nunes 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        I'm glad to hear that people are finding this information to be helpful.

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        im only in 7th grade and this helped me a hell lot more then my teache

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        nice

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        sohaib 5 years ago

        that's great information for my test iam student of level 8

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        Biology Help 5 years ago

        Well written hub.

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        Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Thanks so much, Daisy. Don't apologize for not seeing this one sooner. You've been very supportive of my writing here at HubPages and I really appreciate it!

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        Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

        Glen,

        What a well-written, well-researched article! I'm sorry I missed it when you first published it, my friend. Your diagrams make the subject so much easier to understand.

        I'm sharing your article with my followers, posting a link on Google+, and tweeting it.

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        ... 5 years ago

        Thanks it help me do my homework for science in 7 grade

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        sara 5 years ago

        its great what information i needed is mentioned here

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        Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        You should be able to see 2 diagrams. Have you tried refreshing the page in your browser?

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        :] 5 years ago

        i see no diagram!

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        Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Tyler, yes, plants and animal cells both have DNA. Most of it is contained in the nucleus, with a small amount in the mitochondria.

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        Tyler 5 years ago

        ^do they both have dna

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        frseza 5 years ago

        it really helps thx

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        Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Hi krizha,

        Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm not sure I understand your question. Do you mean: what do plant and animal cells have in common? The diagrams have an asterisk (*) beside the structures that are unique to either plant or animal cells. All of the other structures are present in both. Hope that helps.

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        krizha inocencio 5 years ago

        what are the combination between plants and animal cells?

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        Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

        Teresa - biology students, about grade 8 or 9, was actually the group I had in mind when I created this hub. I figured that would be the group most likely looking for information at this level.

        PWalker281 - I'm glad the diagrams are working. It was a trade-off between how much information to include vs being able to actually read the diagrams at the size they're shown at in the hub.

        Thanks to both of you for the comments and feedback.

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        PWalker281 5 years ago

        Your diagrams make this biology lesson come alive! Voted up and across!

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