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Plant Cell Structures: The Cell Wall and Central Vacuole

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  • 1:19 Plant Cell Walls
  • 2:23 Plant Central Vacuoles
  • 3:24 Osmosis in Plant Cells
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kristin Klucevsek

Kristin has taught college Biology courses and has her doctorate in Biology.

In this lesson, we'll talk about some of the things that make plant cells so different from our cells. In addition to being mean, green photosynthesizing machines, plant cells have cell walls and central vacuoles to make them unique!

Plant Cells Have Specialized Components

Your friend asked you to watch her plants while she went away for the summer. You know plants need plenty of sunshine and water, so you put them on your windowsill and give them a daily drink. But maybe one day you get home late from work and you just completely forget to water the plants. Today turns into tomorrow, which turns into the next day. Before you know it, you walk by the plants and notice they've started to wilt. Whoops!

Structure of animal and plant cells
Animal Plant Cells

Well, even though the plants are wilting, you notice they still look like the same plant with roughly the same shape. There's still hope! With a few extra days before your friend comes back, you still have some time to get back on track and water them daily. Thankfully, the plants perk back up in no time and you're still rewarded for your plant-sitting with a box of chocolates. Lucky you!

If you ever stopped to wonder why plants don't completely collapse when you forget to water them, there's a good reason for that. Plant cells share a lot of components with the cells in your body, such as DNA in a nucleus, an endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes. However, plants have some original cell components that are different than what's in your cells. For one, plant cells have chloroplasts that help turn light energy into food. In today's lessons, we'll talk about two more structures important to plant cells.

Plant Cell Walls

All plant cells have a plasma membrane just like an animal cell, which provides the same barrier and regulates transport. However, plant cells also have a specialized structure called the cell wall. The cell wall is a protective layer surrounding the cell on the outside of the plasma membrane. A cell wall can be up to 800 times thicker than the plasma membrane. It's composed largely of cellulose, a polysaccharide sugar that provides strength to the cell wall. If you've ever noticed how strong the bark of a tree is, that's because this bark is composed of dead cells with really tough cell walls.

The cell wall also grows with the cell, getting bigger as the cell gets bigger. Although plants aren't the only organisms with a cell wall, this structure is a characteristic of all plants.

Structure of the cell wall surrounding plant cells
Plant Cell Wall

The cell wall serves several purposes. Its Popeye-like toughness provides great protection, strength and shape to the cell, helping a plant cell to be both flexible and rigid. Think about a bouquet of roses. The stems are strong enough that you need a sharp knife to cut them, but flexible enough that they fit easily into a beautiful vase.

Plant Central Vacuoles

In addition to a cell wall, plant cells also have this very large structure that can take up as much as 80% of the cell's volume. This is called a central vacuole, a large storage compartment in plant cells. What can this vacuole hold? Well, although other non-plant cells can also have vacuoles, plant cells have these characteristically gigantic vacuoles that are largely a storage place for water. While animal cells are around 70% water, plant cells can be 90% full of water - and they need a place to put it! However, in addition to water, a vacuole can also contain food and other nutrients, as well as waste products.

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