Basics of Animal Cell Biology

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Cell structure

Knowing about animal cells and how they work is an important part of biology, and can be fun with the right science activities to help retain the information you've learned. Animal cell biology is simply the study of animal cells, which are the most basic microscopic units (building blocks) of animal life. Different types of animal cells exist, but they all have the same basic structure.

Animal Cell Structures and Functions

Older children who need to memorize animal cell parts for school homework can benefit from using fill-in-the-blank, animal cell worksheets. This diagram illustrates an animal cell and its main structures, or parts. It usually takes many cells combined and working together to make up an animal, but some organisms are made of just one cell (like amoebas). Many animals are made of different types of cells such as blood, muscle, nerve, skin, intestinal, bone and fat cells. Using an animal cell diagram helps you learn what each part of a cell looks like, and what its job is. Study and memorize the diagram:

animal cell diagram
  • Cell membrane: This is a thin permeable outer layer of a cell that selects which substances enter and exit the cell.
  • Cytoplasm: A jelly-like material inside the cell membrane, cytoplasm is the material that holds organelles (other parts of the cell) in place.
  • Nucleus: The nucleus is a round structure (covered in a membrane) located in the center of an animal cell. It contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and controls many cell functions. It's often called the "brain" or control center of a cell.
  • Nucleolus: The nucleolus is found inside the nucleus, and it makes ribonucleic acid (RNA).
  • Nuclear membrane: The nuclear membrane encircles the nucleus and helps keep contents inside the nucleus safe.
  • Vacuole: The vacuole is present in some animal cells; It is used for food and waste storage, food digestion, and cell intake and output.
  • Mitochondria: These produce energy for the cell. Mitochondria are often referred to as the "powerhouse" of the cell.
  • Lysosome: The lysosome is a sac containing enzymes used for digestion.
  • Centrosome: The centrosome makes microtubules and aids in cell replication and division.
  • Endoplasmic reticulum: The endoplasmic reticulum transports materials through animal cells.
  • Ribosomes: Ribosomes are the structures that make proteins within cells.
  • Golgi body: The Golgi body, or Golgi apparatus, packages, and transports nutrients out of cells.
  • Cilia and Flagella: Cilia are hair-like projections present on the outer layer of some animal cells. They are used to help cells move around or push substances past cells.

Now, test your skills using this fill-in-the-blank printable. To print the sheet, click on the image and it will open as a PDF. From there, you can click the print icon. If you need help using the printable, see this guide.

3D Animal Cell Model

This animal cell project is simple, but fun, and makes an excellent science project for school because it's so visually appealing. The concepts are suitable for first grade and up, however, younger students will need help with spray painting the Styrofoam.

Materials

  • Knife
  • Super glue
  • Empty flat box
  • Four pieces of pink paper
  • Styrofoam ball
  • Three blue marbles
  • Paint (or spray paint) colors: blue, black
  • Sculpting clay colors: red, yellow, orange, pink and white

Instructions

  1. Cut a one-quarter slice out of the Styrofoam ball.
  2. Paint the sliced out area of the ball, blue.
  3. Paint the outside of the ball black.
  4. Roll the red sculpting clay into a long noodle shape for the cell membrane.
  5. Flatten (with a rolling pin) the yellow sculpting clay into four peanut shapes to create mitochondria.
  6. Roll the orange clay into four long noodle shapes, and place them in a squiggly line on top of each mitochondrion.
  7. Roll the pink clay into a round ball and cut out a slice from the ball.
  8. Roll white clay into a slightly larger round ball and cut out a slice from that ball as well.
  9. Place the pink slices into the space in the white ball to form a nucleus with a nucleolus.
  10. Super glue the nucleus into the center of the Styrofoam ball.
  11. Super glue red clay around the outside of the Styrofoam ball to form the cell membrane.
  12. Glue mitochondria onto the ball.
  13. Glue blue marbles (vacuoles) on the ball.
  14. Wrap a flat box with pink paper to make the base.
  15. Glue your animal cell project to the base.

Jell-O Animal Cell

This Jell-O animal cell is great because it can represent the organelles suspended in the cytoplasm. The project takes about three to four hours from start to finish, including the time it takes to solidify the jello. Kids as young as four will understand the concepts, but this can work as a middle school science project as well.

Materials

  • Medium-sized bowl
  • Package of green Jell-O
  • Flattened pink starburst
  • Orange circle-shaped gummy candy
  • Chocolate-covered raisins (or black jelly beans)
  • Yellow Skittles
  • Red Life Saver
  • Red fruit Roll-Up (optional)
  • Green or blue fruit Roll-Up (optional)
  • Toothpicks (optional)
  • White labels (optional)

Instructions

  1. Make the green Jell-O as directed on the package.
  2. Pour Jell-O into a bowl and allow to solidify for at least two hours to form the cytoplasm.
  3. Place flattened pink Starburst on top of Jell-O for the nucleus.
  4. Place an orange gummy on top of the starburst to create a nucleolus.
  5. Put several chocolate-covered raisins on top of the Jell-O to create the mitochondria.
  6. Place a yellow skittle in the bowl for a lysosome.
  7. Put a red Life Saver in the bowl to represent a vacuole.
  8. Add red and green (or blue) fruit Roll-Ups for endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi body (optional).
  9. Label the parts of the cell with toothpicks and white labels.
  10. Eat your cell if you want!

Animal Cell Cake

If you love being in the kitchen, try this tasty animal cell project using your favorite cake recipe. The project is appropriate for kids ages three and up. Putting the cell together will take approximately 20 minutes, minus the time it takes to bake and cool the cake so you can frost it. This is an excellent project for your youngest scientist.

Materials

  • Cake recipe of your choice
  • Rectangle (or circular) cake pan
  • 16-ounce container of white frosting
  • Blue (or another color of your choice) icing
  • Popcorn ball
  • Two Life Savers
  • Two red Fruit Roll-Ups
  • One green Fruit Roll-Up
  • Two other candies of your choice
  • Sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Bake a cake using your favorite recipe, and let it cool in a cake pan.
  2. Frost your cake with white frosting.
  3. Use icing to create a cell membrane to border the cake.
  4. Place a popcorn ball in the center of the cake for the nucleus.
  5. Put two Life Savers on the cake for vacuoles.
  6. Add two red Fruit Roll-Ups to create an endoplasmic reticulum.
  7. Place sprinkles on the cake to represent ribosomes.
  8. Add one piece of candy (of your choice) to represent the mitochondria.
  9. Place another candy on the cake to be a lysosome.
  10. Put the green Fruit Roll-Up on the cake for the Golgi body.
  11. Enjoy eating your delicious animal cell cake!
animal cell cake project

Why Learn About Animal Cells?

Learning about animal cells is one of the first things young scientists do. Cells are the building structures of life, and all good budding scientists understand the basics of animal cell biology. Projects on animal cells are a great way to make science fun and spend quality time as a family.

Basics of Animal Cell Biology