Differences Between Plant and Animal Cells

Animal cells and plant cells are similar in that they are both eukaryotic cells. These cells have a true nucleus, which houses DNA and is separated from other cellular structures by a nuclear membrane. Both of these cell types have similar processes for reproduction, which include mitosis and meiosis. Animal and plant cells obtain the energy they need to grow and maintain normal cellular function through the process of cellular respiration. Both of these cell types also contain cell structures known as organelles, which are specialized to perform functions necessary for normal cellular operation. Animal and plant cells have some of the same cell components in common including a nucleusGolgi complexendoplasmic reticulumribosomesmitochondriaperoxisomescytoskeleton, and cell (plasma) membrane. While animal and plant cells have many common characteristics, they are also different in many ways.

Differences Between Animal Cells and Plant Cells

Animal Cell vs Plant Cell
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  1. Size: Animal cells are generally smaller than plant cells. Animal cells range from 10 to 30 micrometers in length, while plant cells range from 10 and 100 micrometers in length.
  2. Shape: Animal cells come in various sizes and tend to have round or irregular shapes. Plant cells are more similar in size and are typically rectangular or cube shaped.
  3. Energy Storage: Animals cells store energy in the form of the complex carbohydrate glycogen. Plant cells store energy as starch.
  4. Proteins: Of the 20 amino acids needed to produce proteins, only 10 can be produced naturally in animal cells. The other so-called essential amino acids must be acquired through diet. Plants are capable of synthesizing all 20 amino acids.
  5. Differentiation: In animal cells, only stem cells are capable of converting to other cell types. Most plant cell types are capable of differentiation.
  6. Growth: Animal cells increase in size by increasing in cell numbers. Plant cells mainly increase cell size by becoming larger. They grow by absorbing more water into the central vacuole.
  7. Cell Wall: Animal cells do not have a cell wall but have a cell membrane. Plant cells have a cell wall composed of cellulose as well as a cell membrane.
  8. Centrioles: Animal cells contain these cylindrical structures that organize the assembly of microtubules during cell division. Plant cells do not typically contain centrioles.
  9. Cilia: Cilia are found in animal cells but not usually in plant cells. Cilia are microtubules that aid in cellular locomotion.
  10. Cytokinesis: Cytokinesis, the division of the cytoplasm during cell division, occurs in animal cells when a cleavage furrow forms that pinches the cell membrane in half. In plant cell cytokinesis, a cell plate is constructed that divides the cell.
  11. Glyoxysomes: These structures are not found in animal cells, but are present in plant cells. Glyoxysomes help to degrade lipids, particularly in germinating seeds, for the production of sugar.
  12. Lysosomes: Animal cells possess lysosomes which contain enzymes that digest cellular macromolecules. Plant cells rarely contain lysosomes as the plant vacuole handles molecule degradation.
  13. Plastids: Animal cells do not have plastids. Plant cells contain plastids such as chloroplasts, which are needed for photosynthesis.
  14. Plasmodesmata: Animal cells do not have plasmodesmata. Plant cells have plasmodesmata, which are pores between plant cell walls that allow molecules and communication signals to pass between individual plant cells.
  15. Vacuole: Animal cells may have many small vacuoles. Plant cells have a large central vacuole that can occupy up to 90% of the cell's volume.

Prokaryotic Cells

E. coli bacterium
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Animal and plant eukaryotic cells are also different from prokaryotic cells like bacteria. Prokaryotes are usually single-celled organisms, while animal and plant cells are generally multicellular. Eukaryotic cells are more complex and larger than prokaryotic cells. Animal and plant cells contain many organelles not found in prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotes have no true nucleus as the DNA is not contained within a membrane, but is coiled up in a region of the cytoplasm called the nucleoid. While animal and plant cells reproduce by mitosis or meiosis, prokaryotes propagate most commonly by binary fission.

Other Eukaryotic Organisms

Haematococcus algae, light micrograph

Plant and animal cells are not the only types of eukaryotic cells. Protists and fungi are two other types of eukaryotic organisms. Examples of protists include algae, euglena, and amoebas. Examples of fungi include mushrooms, yeasts, and molds.


  • Machalek AZ. Inside the Cell. Chapter 1: An Owner's Guide to the Cell. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Reviewed August 9, 2012. http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/insidethecell/chapter1.html
  • Cooper GM. The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2000. The Molecular Composition of Cells. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9879/