The Science and Culture of Art - Maui the Kitemaker

Lesson 6 - Gel Cells: Modeling the Difference between a Plant and Animal Cell

What's so special about wauke cells?



Students make 3D models of a typical plant and animal cell. Students will then play a game of Attack of the Giant Cell reviewing the “jobs” of the organelles that most cells contain. As a result, students will understand the special properties of the wauke cell that explain why it is a perfect material for making bark cloth.



Plant and animals cells contain many of the same organelles and have similar structures, with some key difference (rigid cell wall, chloroplasts, etc). These differences are very important in the functioning of plants and animals.


People learned to let nature help them do their work, such as fermentation in kapa making. By letting the kapa ferment in water over time, the kapa was much finer and softer than when it wasn’t fermented.


Students will also learn the special properties of the wauke cell that explain why it is a perfect material for making bark cloth.



The cell is the structural and functional unit of all living organisms, and is sometimes called the building block of life. Some organisms, such as bacteria, are unicellular (consist of a single cell). Other organisms, such as humans, are muliticellular. (humans have an estimated 100 trillion cells or !0 4 cells). A typical cell size is 10 um; a typical cell mass is 1 nanogram. The largest known cell is an ostrich egg. For comparison, 10 um (10 micrometers, also called “microns”) is equal to 1/100 millimeters. So, if you stacked up 100 typical cells it would only be one milometer in height. Check that on your ruler. And it would take one million of these typical cells to equal one gram; one gram is about what a thumbtack weighs.


The cell theory, first developed in 1839 by Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, states that all organisms are composed of one or more cells. All cells come from pre-existing cells. Vital functions of an organism begin within cells, and all cells contain hereditary information necessary for regulating cell functions and for transmitting information to the next generation of cells.


The word "cell" comes from the latin cellula, a small room. The name was chosen by Robert Hooke when he compared the cork cells he saw to the small rooms monks lived in.


Each cell is at least somewhat self-contained and self-maintaining: it can take in nutrients, convert these nutrients into energy, carry out specialized functions, and reproduce as necessary. Each cell stores its own set of instructions for carrying out each of these activities.


Plants and animal cells share many characteristics, but there are a few very important differences. These differences are reflected in the very different functioning of these two types of organisms. Remember the food web? Plants are primary producers and animals are consumers. Plants have chloroplasts that allow them to make food from sunlight and air. Animals do not have chloroplasts; therefore they must eat plants and other animals to survive.


Another obvious difference is that most animals can move about while plants are normally sessile; that is, they are fixed to the ground by their roots. That is because plants have rigid cell walls which help them stand up and have structure, but keep them from moving. Animals don’t have rigid cell walls; instead they have a skeleton of many bones connected by movable muscles and ligaments.


The student exercises will cover many of the basic organelles, but there are others that are not covered in this lesson.