The cells of animals and plants are both eukaryotic, meaning that they have cells containing a nuclear-bound membrane. And so, both cell types also house organelles which are also membrane-bound, like the mitochondria and the golgi apparatus.
That said, animal cells and plant cells do not have all of the same organelles, because their cellular needs are different. Think about photosynthesis — a process essential to plants — which requires a chloroplast. But since animals do not photosynthesize, they don’t need chloroplasts.
So you might then be wondering, which structure is common to plant and animal cells?
There are quite a few, all described below.
Cellular Structures Plants and Animals Have in Common
The following are the organelles and cellular structures that are found in both plant and animal cells.
The nucleus is the most important part of any cell — it is like the cell’s brain. It is responsible for regulating and controlling everything that goes on inside the cell. The nucleus looks after not only the essential functions of metabolism and growth, but it also contains the genes which carry the cell’s hereditary information.
In plant cells, the nucleus lies to one side. In animal cells, it sits in the very center.
Vacuoles are small organelles which are responsible for activities involving storage and waste, as well as maintaining the cell’s structure and shape.
While plant cells have one large vacuole, animal cells have several smaller ones.
Centrioles regulate and organize the microtubules which together make up the skeletal system of a cell. The centrioles influence where the organelles of a cell will sit, and they are responsible for cell division.
However, centrioles occur mainly in animals. They occur only in some lower plants. Lower plants are those which are made up of cilia flagella, such as algae and fungi. Within the flagella are the plant cell’s centrioles.
There are no centrioles in higher plants.
Microtubules / Microfilaments
The cytoskeleton of a cell is made up of microtubules, microfilaments and intermediate filaments. The microtubule network regulates cell movement and growth and other important activities which balance and maintain processes central to sustaining life. The functions of mitosis, intracellular transport, cell motility and shape can all be attributed to the microtubule network.
Both animal and plant cells require cytoplasm, which is a thick liquid filling the cell. The cytoplasm is tasked with containing and securing the cell’s components, protecting them from harm. Furthermore, the cytoplasm is where all molecules dedicated to cellular processes live.
Ribosomes execute the essential task of protein synthesization, which is a primary function carried out by all living cells. Ribosomes are made of protein and RNA; the former is responsible for converting genetic code into amino acid chains. The genetic codes are the instructions which organelles must follow in carrying out the task of sustaining life — and that’s why ribosomes are present in every living cell.
Endoplasmic Reticulum (Smooth and Rough)
The endoplasmic reticulum is one of the largest organelles present in both animal and plant cells. They are multifunctional, in that they store calcium, metabolize essential lipids (such as cholesterol) and carbohydrates, and also contribute to protein synthesis.
There are 2 types of endoplasmic reticulum (ER): rough and smooth.
Rough ER has ribosomes on its membrane, and is capable of storing and synthesizing proteins and lipids.
Smooth ER does not have ribosomes attached to it. It is capable of storing and synthesizing proteins, but not lipids.
Peroxisomes are single membrane-bound organelles which carry digestive enzymes. These enzymes carry out metabolic activity, such as disintegrating toxic components. Peroxisomes also contain oxidative enzymes, which perform metabolic activity.
In animal and plant cells, the squiggly-looking Golgi apparatus — also known as the Golgi body — assists in packaging and processing lipid molecules and proteins, especially those which are exported out of the cell. The Golgi body is named after Camillo Golgi, who discovered it.
The cells of plants have both a cell membrane and a cell wall. In contrast, there’s no cell wall in animal cells, but they do have a cell membrane. In plants, the cell membrane is surrounded by the cell wall, and that’s how plant cells get their rectangular shape.
The plasma membrane is what separates the cell from the environment in which it exists. As such, all cells of all types have a plasma membrane.
Flagella are tiny, hair-like structures with a whip-like appearance, which help to propel a cell that needs to move. So, cells which are intended to move contain flagella. Think of mammalian sperm cells, which need to reach the egg. These cells are only able to move, spin, race and dive with the assistance of flagella, which propel the cell.
Flagella is absent in most plant cells as they do not need to move and do not require something to propel them. However, some plant species which do produce flagellated sperm, such as bryophytes and Ginkgo, contain flagella.
Cilia are similar to flagella, as they are responsible for moving water around relative to the cell in the cilia’s regular movement. The result is the cell being able to move through water or moving water from one place in the cell to another.
Like flagella, the majority of plants do not have cells containing cilia. Cilia are only found in the cells of lower plants.
Which is common between plant and animal cells? Quite a few, it would appear — but there are some important distinctions as well. We hope that our detailed exploration of common plant and animal cellular structures will help you to remember all the different parts better.
Good luck for that exam!