MadSci Network: Cell Biology

Re: What does an animal cell have that a plant cell doesn't have?

Date: Fri Oct 5 15:46:01 2001
Posted By: Sarah Tegen, Grad student, Molecular and Cell Biology, UC-Berkeley
Area of science: Cell Biology
ID: 1001638179.Cb

Dear Nina,
What an excellent question!  I had to think about it for a long time to 
figure out the answer.

The most obvious structure that an animal cell has that plant cells do 
not is centrioles.  Centrioles are structures that are important for DNA 
segregation when a cell undergoes mitosis.  Centrioles are 
associated with the spindle--the filaments that help pull apart the 
chromosomes.  Not a whole lot is understood about centrioles.  Here 
is a website which I thought was useful in this regard.

Additionally, though both plant and animal cells have vacuoles, and 
lysosomes, animal cells have many more of each.  Plant cells often 
have one large vacuole while animal cells have many small ones.  
Lysosomes are an important organelle for digestion of waste 
materials and food.  Animal cells tend to have more of these as well.

If you think of plants and animals at an organismal level, there are 
systems differences--plants don't have nervous systems, immune 
systems, or muscles, so plants lack nerves, blood cells, and muscle 

There are other differences too (and this gets somewhat more 
technical).  When you see a plant bend toward the sunlight, this is 
actually due to new cell growth, rather than repositioning of existing 
parts (think of bending your elbow to reach the fork on the table).  
Basically you get more cell growth on the convex side, and that 
pushes the plant stem toward the light.  (Whether this is useful to you 
or not, I'm not sure, but I thought it was kind of interesting).

The last differences I want to point out is that animal cells are motile, 
and plant  cells are not.  This means there are important differences 
in structures called the cytoskeleton within the plant and animal cells.    
Think of the cytoskeleton in animal cells as internal tent poles that 
you can pretty easily collapse and move around--just like camping.  
Think of  plant cytoskelton as more like the studs that hold up your 
house--the plant cytoskeleton is more like a foundation for the cell 
wall.  Though you lose flexibility of movement by having a cell wall 
(just like it's really tough to move a house), you gain a lot of strength
to be able to resist the elements, so plants aren't really at a 
disadvantage because they can't move.

In the words of my friend Raka (who helped me answer this 
question):  "The general consensus from our lab is that
plant cells are way better because they can do everything the animal 
cells can do and more... :)"

Hope this is helpful!

Please let me know if I can be of more help.  

Good luck with AP Bio!


Admin note: Although higher plants (like flowers, crops, trees) don't have 
centrioles, green algae such as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii most certainly do, 
and these are technically counted in the plant kingdom. Chlamydomonas are 
unicellular algae with cell walls, chloroplasts and centrioles. In fact, a lot 
of labs use Chlamydomonas to study how centrioles are made and what they do. (So 
it's not really true that only animal cells have centrioles, but it depends on 
what you consider a REAL plant). 

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