How are you like a tree?

Shreya Jain
20 September 2018

Above: Image © Gawrav Sinha, iStock

Did you know that you and the tree outside your classroom window actually have a lot in common? You're both living organisms. You're both made up of cells that have structures. Those structures help those cells perform daily activities.

Imagine a car, where the various parts all work together to maintain a well-functioning machine. Similarly, various organelles all work together so that the cell can function.

Did you know? Animal cells are generally 10 to 30 micrometers in diameter. Meanwhile, plant cells are larger, ranging from 10 to 100 micrometers in diameter.

Plants and animals both have organelles that exist in both to perform similar functions. For example, they both have cytoplasm that surrounds all the organelles in the cell. They both have ribosomes and mitochondria that work together to provide the cell with energy to function. This system is kind of like the engine of a car. The engine powers the car, similar to how the mitochondria powers the cell.

Both plant and animal cells have an endoplasmic reticulum, which is where many proteins and small molecules are made. Plants and animals both also have a cell membrane, which protects the cell and its contents. It also allows the passage of useful molecules, like water, ions, and sugar.

Plants and animals also have peroxisomes that help detoxify harmful and toxic substances within the cell, and a Golgi apparatus that helps package contents made by the endoplasmic reticulum. Both cell types have microtubules and microfilaments that help give the cell its shape. They also help in cell division and transportation of proteins within the cell.

Plant and animal cells also have vacuoles. Vacuoles store water and small proteins. They also isolate harmful substances. But while animal cells have many vacuoles, plants have a single large vacuole.

Both types of cells also have a nucleus that holds the DNA. DNA makes each organism unique within its species. The nucleus is separated from the other structures and contents by a nuclear membrane.

Plant-only cells

Some of the structures within plant and animal cells are specialized. That’s because both interact with their environment in different ways to survive.

For example, plants have specialized structures for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process where plants create their own food using sunlight and specialized structures called chloroplasts. As you read, plants and animals both have cell membranes. However, plants also have a cell wall. The cell wall allows plants to maintain a rigid structure and keep a fixed shape.

Did you know? Chloroplasts are about 5 micrometers across and contain chlorophyll, which absorbs the sunlight.

Some of the organelles you've just learned about. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Summing up

Plants and animals share a lot of similar organelles. That’s because they’re both living organisms, and both need to do some similar things to survive. But unlike animals, plants have a single vacuole, chloroplasts, and a cell wall. These differences have to do with the different things plants need to do to survive.

Learn More

Overview of animal and plant cells (2018) Khan Academy

Differences between plant and animal cells (2018) ThoughtCo

Difference Between Plant and Animal Cells (2017) Science Trends


Cell Differences: Plant Cells (2018) SparkNotes

Plant Cell vs Animal Cell - Difference and Comparison (2018) Diffen

Differences Between Animal and Plant Cells (2018) ThoughtCo.

What are the Differences between Animal and Plant Cells? (2018) Owlcation

Shreya Jain

Shreya Jain is a Bachelor of Biological Science student, majoring in Life Sciences, at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). She has a strong passion for research and acknowledges that the power of science is enormous. This mentality has led her to various opportunities such as working with Let's Talk Science, placing first place in the Students Advancing in Brain Cancer Research Symposium, traveling abroad to China as a research exchange student, and presently pursuing a thesis project in a biochemistry lab at UOIT. Shreya strongly believes in developing passion through personal experience and creates such opportunities for her peers by working for the Faculty of Science at UOIT as a Science Co-op Assistant. In her spare time, she is the Founder and President of a UOIT student club: Students Investing in Brain Research and Development (SIBRD), in collaboration with the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada, and volunteers at Oshawa Senior Citizens Centre as a Day Program Assistant for patients with Alzheimer's.

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