Marion T. answered 01/23/13
Not your average tutor, an Educational Therapist
The main structural differences between plant and animal cells are the additional structures found in plant cells. These structures include: chloroplasts, the cell wall, and vacuoles.
In animal cells, the mitochondria produces the majority of the cells energy from food. Plant cells use sunlight as their energy source; the sunlight must be converted into energy in a process called photosynthesis. Chloroplasts are perform this function. The energy conversion in plants is a complex set of reactions similar to those performed by mitochondria in animals.
The Cell Wall
Another structural difference between in plant cells is the presence of a rigid cell wall surrounding the cell membrane. The tough wall gives added stability and protection to the plant cell. If you think about it, most animal cells are inside an organism that has either an exoskeleton or an endoskeleton, built in structure. Plants don't have a skeleton of any kind so the cells have to perform this.
Vacuoles are large, liquid-filled organelles found only in plant cells. Vacuoles can occupy up to 90% of a cell's volume and have a single membrane. Their main function is as a space-filler in the cell, but they can also fill digestive functions and their interiors can be used as storage for nutrients.
Thomas C.I think it is important to make the distinction that animal and plant cells both need mitochondria to create energy molecules for cellular function. The difference is that plant cells can make their own 'food' to be used for energy while animal cells must take in food sources from their environment, akin to eating. If you also think about it, plants need water to make food as well. 6CO2 + 6H20 + (energy) → C6H12O6 + 6O2 The plant cell wall helps ensuring that the water can be retained without exploding.