Animal Cells

Here is a typical animal cell. Cells are specialised to do different jobs. They are usually arranged into tissues. A tissue contains many cells all of the same kind and all doing the same jobs. You must know about a variety of animal cells for your GCSE exam, so here are some examples.

A Liver Cell

This is a fairly typical animal cell. Like all other animal cells it has a nucleus, cytoplasm and a cell membrane. Liver cells have many jobs. They remove toxic chemicals from the blood, they store glycogen, they remove excess amino-acids from the blood and make urea which is excreted by the kidneys; they generate heat to warm your blood on a cold day; they store iron, and so on.

Like all other animal and plant cells they contain mitochondria (singular mitochondrion). These are cell organelles. Their job is to obtain energy from glucose by tissue respiration. The energy produced by mitochondria is released into the cell in the form of ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate).

A Sperm Cell

Here is a diagram of a sperm. It is a single cell and just like other cells it has a nucleus, cytoplasm and a nucleus. It is specialised to carry genetic information. It has very little cytoplasm. It has one very large mitochondrion. It has a ling tail. The tail gets ATP energy from the mitochondrion. The tail lashes about like a whip driving the sperm forwards (swimming). The acrosome contains enzymes which help it break into an egg to fertilize the egg.

A Motor Neurone

This is a motor neurone (nerve cell). It is very long. The cell body at the left side of the diagram is found in the spinal cord or brain. The motor end plates are found on the surface of a muscle. Electrical messages (nerve impulses) are carried along the axon from your brain to one of your muscles. When the impulse gets to a muscle, it makes the muscle contract.

You can see that the axon (nerve fibre) is covered in “Schwann Cells” which contain a lot of fat and insulate each axon from all the others. I have not bothered to draw the nuclei of the Schwann Cells in place, but they all have one.

This is a white blood cell: there are usually a few thousand white blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. Their jobs are to produce antibodies and to engulf bacteria, i.e. they fight disease. When you have an infection, the number of white blood cells in your blood will rise. They can change their shape and this helps them to squeeze themselves through cracks in your capillary walls. White blood cells can escape from the blood into your tissues to fight infections.

A Red Blood Cell

This is a red blood cell. There are approximately five million red blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood, slightly more in men and less in women. The number of red blood cells is higher in people who live at high altitudes. Red blood cells have a perfect shape for absorbing and releasing oxygen. They are full of an iron containing protein called haemoglobin. This protein has a very high affinity for oxygen. When blood passes through your lungs it becomes saturated with oxygen.

Haemoglobin is an amazing chemical because if you warm it slightly and add a bit of acid, it will give up all its oxygen. Well, when your blood goes through your muscles, the heat from exercise and carbon dioxide force the heamoglobin to give up its oxygen.

Red blood cells do not have nuclei. Developing red blood cells in your bone marrow do have nuclei, but the nuclei disintigrate when they are fully developed: this is because the nuclei are not needed any more.

I hope that you have learnt that all animal cells have a cell membrane, cytoplasm and a nucleus (red blood cells excepted) and that cells are specialised to do different jobs. A biologist would say that “their structures are related to their functions”.


The nucleus of a cell contains a very special chemical called DNA. This stands for Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid: you do NOT need to remember the full name for your GCSE exam though you will have to know it for “A” Level biology. It is actually acidic, hence the name. It is found in the nucleus, hence the name. I contains a sugar called deoxyribose, hence the name.

DNA is very special because it contains information to control what the cytoplasm does. Another similar chemical called RNA is used to pass the information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. RNA stand for Ribo Nucleic Acid: it contains a sugar called ribose. Again you do not need to remember the full name for GCSE.

You and I have inherited feature from our parents: we are similar but not identical to our siblings. I have three younger siblings, two are sisters and one is a brother. Please don’t e-mail me to tell me that you are identical to one of your siblings: if you are one of a pair of identical twins you are a special case. You will already know that you and your sibling are identical because you were made from the same sperma and egg.

The bits of information in the DNA molecules are called “genes”. Have a look at my genetics page if you want to know more about inheritance.


The cytoplasm is the part of the cell which does all the work. Different cells do different jobs, however whatever the job is it will require energy in the form of a chemical called ATP. This energy containing chemical is produced by tiny organelles in the cell called mitochondria.

Muscle cells contain two very special chemicals called actin and myosin. These are made of protein and they can join together to form actinomyosin. When a nerve impulse simulates a muscle it makes the actinomyosin contract.

The cells in your salivary glands make mucin (a very slippery protein) and amylase (an enzyme). The nuclei of the secretory cells in your salivary gland contain the information about how to make these two proteins in their DNA.

Cell Membranes

The cell membrane controls what comes into and goes out of the cell. Cell membranes are semi-permeable. That means that they allow some things to pass through and prevent other things from passing through. Membranes are NOT fully permeable, NOR are they completely impermeable. You could go and have a look at my osmosis page to find out more on membranes and permeability.