Creative ways to make a model of an animal cell

Written by erik devaney
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Creative ways to make a model of an animal cell
Animal cells have no cell walls, allowing for a diverse array of organisms (including those that are incredibly flexible). (jellyfish image by cherie from Fotolia.com)

Animal cells are eukaryotic, which means they have a well-defined nucleus containing their genetic material. The nucleus, along with other organelles -- such as mitochondria and ribosomes -- are suspended in a plasma membrane. Unlike plant and fungus cells, animal cells do not have a cell wall, allowing the animal kingdom to have a greater diversity of cell types (and more complex organisms). To learn more about the different parts of an animal cell (while displaying your creativity), try constructing a model.

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3D cell-in-a-bag

For this project, you will need two resealable plastic bags, clear or light-coloured corn syrup, and assorted sweets, snacks, and other small items. According to the Gene School, start by filling one of your plastic bags with corn syrup. The syrup will serve as the cytoplasm of your cell, which holds the organelles -- and the nucleus -- in place. Then, place the bag of syrup into the other bag, which will represent the flexible cell membrane and help prevent rips. Push your items into the bags so they become submerged (or immersed) in the syrupy cytoplasm. Make sure to use items that are of the same approximate shape of the organelles they represent. For example, you can use a small water balloon for the nucleus, green jelly babies for the endoplasmic reticulum, and small, blue berry-like sweets for lysosomes.

Topographical cell map

The objective of this project is to make an animal cell model that also serves as a functional cell map. According to Biology Corner, you can use a round, flat piece of polystyrene foam as a base, and then build all of the organelles on top of it with modelling clay or household items like sweets, cereal, toothpicks, fruits, and peas. You can leave the foam base exposed to represent the cytoplasm, or you can fill it all in with the same material (making sure to keep the colour consistent). Once you finish constructing the model, draw out a map key, using colour-coding to label each organelle. For example, if your Golgi apparatus is red, put a red square next to its name on your key.

Cell cross-section

This project requires extensive use of modelling clay and is perhaps best suited for group-work. The goal is to create a cross-section of an animal cell, as if you were looking at a thin slice of one under a microscope. According to Galaxy Goo, each person in the group should be responsible for making different organelles. Make sure to vary the colours you use for each so you can distinguish them from one another. Once everyone has finished, the group should carefully wrap all of the organelles in the same-coloured clay, which will represent the cytoplasm. By squishing all of your wrapped-up organelles together into a huge ball of clay, you can form a complete animal cell model. Let all of the clay dry and cut the model in half. Each side will show a cross-section of what the inside of an animal cell looks like.

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