The Difference Between Plant and Animal Cells

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  • 0:00 Animal Vs. Plants
  • 1:09 Shared Characteristics
  • 1:53 Features Unique to Plant Cells
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leigh Carman

Leigh Ann holds a master's degree in science and has taught middle and high school science for over ten years.

While both plant and animal cells are eukaryotic and share many similarities, they also differ in several ways. Learn about the key differences between these two cell types in this lesson.

Animals vs. Plants

Are you slouching in your chair while reading this lesson? Try to sit up straight. Reach your arms to the sky and stretch.... Feels good, right? Like it or not, you are an animal. Your cells are squishy blobs of cytoplasm, yet you are able to use your muscles and bones to stand upright and move about. As a heterotroph like all animals, you have to obtain nutrition from other sources. If you were feeling hungry or thirsty, you would just stand up and walk over to the refrigerator.

Now think about plants. Picture a tall oak tree or even a tiny blade of grass. They stand upright without having muscles or bones, but they don't have the luxury of walking somewhere to obtain food and drink. Plants, being autotrophs, make their own food using the sun's energy.

Many of the key differences between plants and animals come down to structural differences at the cellular level. Plant cells have some parts that animal cells don't, and vice versa. Let's take a quick look at what animal and plant cells have in common and then explore what makes them different.

Shared Characteristics

Both plant and animal cells are eukaryotic, so they have a lot of similarities. They have a membrane-bound nucleus that contains their genetic material (DNA). A semi-permeable plasma membrane surrounds both types of cells. Their cytoplasm contains many of the same parts and organelles, including ribosomes, Golgi complexes, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria and peroxisomes among others.

Structures common to both plant and animal cells
Structures common to animal and plant cells

As eukaryotic cells, they are also similar in size, being about 10-100 times larger than prokaryotes, like bacteria which do not have a nucleus. Now let's examine the unique features of each cell type.

Features Unique to Plant Cells

How are plants able to stand upright? Credit for that ability goes to the cell wall, which surrounds the membrane of all plant cells. The cell wall provides support and rigidity to plant cells and often gives them a rectangular or even hexagonal appearance when observed in a microscope.

Plant cells have a rigid, regular shape and can contain many chloroplasts.
Plant cells viewed with microscope

Plant cell walls can be several micrometers thick. Their composition varies among groups of plants, but they are usually made of fibers of the carbohydrate cellulose embedded in a matrix of proteins and other carbohydrates. Cell walls help plant cells maintain turgor pressure from the uptake of water, which helps contribute to their stiffness and plants' capacity for vertical growth. Channels through the cell wall called plasmodesmata allow neighboring cells to exchange cytoplasm and certain materials.

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