Plant cells give plants not only the structure they need to stand tall, but help provide nutrients and colors. In some ways, they are very different from animal cells and in other ways they are very similar. Understanding these differences not only helps understand some characteristics of plants, but also why they are so valuable to humans and are needed in people's diets.
Plant cells, like animal cells, carry out the basic functions of life for an organism. All cells have certain parts of the cellular structure in common. This includes the cell membrane, cytoplasm and DNA. The membrane is the skin of the cell, protecting it from outside influences. The cytoplasm is a liquid solution inside the cell. The DNA provides the genetic information for the cell.
All plant cells are eukaryotic, meaning they all contain a nucleus. Bacteria, on the other hand, may be prokaryotic, which means they do not have a nucleus. In plant cells, the nucleus is usually where the cell's DNA is stored. This helps define cell function.
This part of the cell is a major difference between plant and animal cells. Whereas animals usually have a bone structure to support them, plants do not. To make up for that, plants have a cell wall, a harder lining on the outside of the cell that can help provide it form and structure. Without a cell wall, plants would not be able to support themselves. The cell wall is a part of a plant cell outside the cell membrane.
Inside the plant cells are organelles, which carry out a basic function of the cell. In plants, a special organelle called chloroplast is present. The chloroplast has pigments known as chlorophyll, which give many plants their distinctive green color. These pigments also help capture sunlight and convert it to energy, something only plant cells can do. This is known as photosynthesis.
There are literally dozens of smaller parts that contribute to the whole of a plant cell as well. For example, ribosomes help with protein synthesis. Rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum are responsible for transporting materials through the cell and other such functions. The vacuole, a membrane within the cell containing a fluid, helps the cell maintain its form.
The major significance concerning the parts of plant cells is that they provide something to people that is unavailable from other animal cells, thus making fruits and vegetables essential to a healthy diet. In particular, fiber is the main benefit. Fiber comes from consuming the cell wall of plants.