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Compare and Contrast Key Features of Cell Specialisation

In this worksheet, students will compare specialised cells and their functions.

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

Living things or organisms are made up of cells. Some organisms may be made up of just a single cell (unicellular), like bacteria, whereas others are made up of lots of cells, like a plant. Some cells have particular jobs they need to carry out and are called specialised cells. 

 

SPERM CELL - The job or function of the sperm cell is to fertilise an egg cell. The head of the sperm cell, called the acrosome, contains enzymes, which help the sperm cell to break down the outer membrane of the egg cell and then penetrate it. Once the sperm cell penetrates the egg, the genetic material in the haploid sperm cell can combine with the genetic material of the haploid egg cell. This is known as fertilisation. Eggciting stuff!

 

The sperm cell is also suited to it's job by having a tail to allow it to swim towards the egg. It uses the energy provided by the mitochondria to power the tail, allowing it to swim to the egg.

Picture of a sperm cell

 

NERVE CELL/NEURONE - The nerve cell has many features. One of its features is a tail like looking structure called the axon, which can be really long. This allows nerve impulses to travel all across the body at lightning fast speed. The axon also allows nerve impulses to be passed along to other effector cells like muscles via synaptic clefts. It's covered in a blanket of fatty cells called the myelin sheath. This helps to protect the nerve cell from damage and helps speed up the transmission of nerve impulses.

 

Another feature of the nerve cell is the dendrons. Dendrons are branches (that further divide into dendrites), which receive nerve impulses from other nerve cells.

Picture of a nerve cell

 

MUSCLE CELLS - These are made up of protein filaments and are arranged in bundles, which means that the muscle can contract, or shorten. There are three main types: skeletal, cardiac and smooth. Skeletal muscles are connected to our bones, which allows us to move. We have control over our skeletal muscles. Cardiac muscle cells, which make up the heart, contract rhythmically, allowing the heart to pump blood around the body. These muscles contract automatically. Smooth muscle cells are usually found lining our organs and can help with contracting, for example, your bladder. Smooth muscles also contract automatically (though we can control some types). Muscles contain mitochondria, allowing energy from respiration for muscle contraction.

 

Picture of the three types of muscle cell

 

 

What about plants? Yes, plants have specialised cells too! 

 

ROOT HAIR CELLS - Root hair cells are tiny projections on the actual roots of the plant; they give the roots a bigger surface area, which allows more water to be in contact with the root hair cell. This basically means more water can be absorbed by osmosis. The thin walls of the roots mean that water and nutrients can pass into the plant super quick.

Picture of a root hair cell

 

XYLEM AND PHLOEM CELLS - Xylem cells transport water in one direction (from the root to the leaves) and are made of a thick hardened non-living structure called lignin (in trees this is the woody part). The lignin helps to keep the plant upright and supported. Phloem cells transport glucose (produced from photosynthesis) and other substances, like amino acids, up and down the plant to where they are needed (this is called translocation). The mitochondria in the companion cells found next to the phloem cells provide the energy needed for the movement of substances around the plant. Unlike xylem, the phloem cells are living. Phloem cells also have fewer organelles, which allows the sugar to travel easily throughout the phloem. The phloem cells are connected by sieve plates and, as the name suggests, they look like sieves because of the holes in them. This speeds up translocation, as it allows the sugars to pass through the holes from cell to cell.

 

Picture of leaf anatomy including xylem and phloem vessels

 

In the following activity, you will be comparing and contrasting the different specialised cells and how their adaptations help them to carry out their job.

Specialised cells are cells with a specific function or role.

 

Picture of a sperm cell

The function of a sperm cell is to fertilise an egg cell.

 

Define fertilisation. Choose one answer.

The mixing together of sperm cells and egg cells

When a baby is formed

The fusing of the haploid sperm nuclei with the haploid egg nuclei

Picture of a sperm cell

The acrosome found in the head of the sperm cell contains enzymes.

 

What are enzymes and how do they help the sperm cell to do its job? Select two answers.

Enzymes are chemicals that slow down reactions

Enzymes are proteins that speed up a reaction

Enzymes are carbohydrates that speed up a reaction

The enzymes break down the outer membrane of the egg

The enzymes provides energy for movement

The enzymes break down the egg cell

The myelin sheath wraps around the axons of nerve cells. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes your immune system to attack the myelin sheath.

 

How might this affect nerve transmission? Choose one answer.

Nerve transmission is faster than normal

Nerve transmission is slow or may not happen at all in some cases

Nerve transmission is not affected

How do the different parts of a nerve cell work together to ensure the nerve cell is highly specialised? 

Nerve cells receive impulses from other cells via the axons, which are then transmitted away from the cell body down the myelin sheath. This happens very fast due to the insulation provided by the myelin sheath

Nerve cells receive impulses from other cells via the dendrites, which are then transmitted away from the cell body down the axon. This happens very fast due to the insulation provided by the myelin sheath

Nerve cells receive impulses from other cells via the dendrites, which are then transmitted away from the cell body down the tail. This happens very fast due to the insulation provided by the myelin sheath

Sperm cells and muscle cells both contain mitochondria.

 

Why might these cells need mitochondria? Choose one answer.

For energy release to power the sperm's tail and muscle contraction

For storage, so the sperm cell and muscle cell can use the energy later

For energy, to help the sperm and muscle cell to grow

There are three types of muscle cells, as shown in the picture below. The stomach contains smooth muscle, whereas the heart is made of cardiac muscle. Both muscle types function automatically and do not tire.

 

However, skeletal muscles are not automatic and tire quickly in comparison.

 

Why do you think cardiac muscle never tires? Select one answer.

 

 Picture of the three types of muscle cells

Skeletal muscles require control

Smooth and cardiac muscle are not essential for life

Cardiac muscles make up the heart, which always needs to pump blood around the body

All muscle cells need to respire

Picture of a root hair cell

Root hair cells have an important job to do. They allow water and minerals to be absorbed from the soil by osmosis.

 

How does the root hair cell allow water and minerals to be absorbed? Select two features.

Thin walls for water and mineral ions to pass through

Thick walls for water and mineral ions to pass through

Small surface area to take up less space

Large surface area to allow more contact with water molecules and ions

Xylem cells are specialised cells found in plants. They are needed to transport water around the plant.

 

What is the structure of the xylem walls and how does this benefits the plant? Select two answers.

Thick walls made of cellulose and lignin

Thick walls made of cell sap

Allows plant to bend and be flexible

Allows plant to be fully supported

The phloem is involved in transporting sugars around the plant, which is called translocation.

 

Describe the process of translocation

Thick walls made of cellulose and lignin

Thick walls made of cell sap

Allows plant to bend and be flexible

Allows plant to be fully supported

Compare the key features of the sperm, nerve, muscle, root hair cell, xylem and phloem cells. Select all applicable answers.

 SpermNerveMuscleRoot hairXylemPhloem
Contains mitochondria for energy supply
Has a large surface area
Transports glucose
Has a fatty sheath for fast transmission
Allows movement of substances in one direction only
Translocation occurs here
Made of dead cells
Made of living cells
Haploid cell
Allows contraction
  • Question 1

Specialised cells are cells with a specific function or role.

 

Picture of a sperm cell

The function of a sperm cell is to fertilise an egg cell.

 

Define fertilisation. Choose one answer.

CORRECT ANSWER
The fusing of the haploid sperm nuclei with the haploid egg nuclei
EDDIE SAYS
Fertilisation is when the haploid sperm cell's genetic material combines with the haploid egg cell's genetic material. When this happens a diploid zygote is formed, which has the full 23 pairs of chromosomes. Eventually, this will grow to be a fetus.
  • Question 2

Picture of a sperm cell

The acrosome found in the head of the sperm cell contains enzymes.

 

What are enzymes and how do they help the sperm cell to do its job? Select two answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
Enzymes are proteins that speed up a reaction
The enzymes break down the outer membrane of the egg
EDDIE SAYS
Don't worry if you found that tricky! Enzymes are found in our body. They are biological catalysts made of protein that speed up a reaction. Without them, all our bodily reactions would happen at a slower rate. The acrosome also helps by using its enzymes to break down the outer membrane of the egg, so that the sperm cell can enter the egg cell and fertilisation can happen.
  • Question 3

The myelin sheath wraps around the axons of nerve cells. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that causes your immune system to attack the myelin sheath.

 

How might this affect nerve transmission? Choose one answer.

CORRECT ANSWER
Nerve transmission is slow or may not happen at all in some cases
EDDIE SAYS
The job of a nerve cell is to transmit or carry information via nerve impulses to different parts of the body. When the myelin sheath is damaged, the nerves can also be damaged and scarred. This makes it harder for the nerve cells to transmit impulses, which can lead to weakened muscles, coordination issues and even paralysis.
  • Question 4

How do the different parts of a nerve cell work together to ensure the nerve cell is highly specialised? 

CORRECT ANSWER
Nerve cells receive impulses from other cells via the dendrites, which are then transmitted away from the cell body down the axon. This happens very fast due to the insulation provided by the myelin sheath
EDDIE SAYS
These different parts of the nerve cell make it really specialised and suited to its job. Dendrites are the tiny branches that receive impulses and pass them along to the axon. Remember, the axon looks like a tail (it's NOT a tail though, so don't write that in an exam!) and the myelin sheath is a fatty covering surrounding the axon. The impulse travels down the axon to the synaptic cleft, where it is passed along to an effector cell - like a muscle cell, for example.
  • Question 5

Sperm cells and muscle cells both contain mitochondria.

 

Why might these cells need mitochondria? Choose one answer.

CORRECT ANSWER
For energy release to power the sperm's tail and muscle contraction
EDDIE SAYS
How are you getting on? Mitochondria supply energy from respiration. Sperm cells use energy to move their tails to swim towards the egg cell, whereas muscle cells use energy to allow regular contraction.
  • Question 6

There are three types of muscle cells, as shown in the picture below. The stomach contains smooth muscle, whereas the heart is made of cardiac muscle. Both muscle types function automatically and do not tire.

 

However, skeletal muscles are not automatic and tire quickly in comparison.

 

Why do you think cardiac muscle never tires? Select one answer.

 

 Picture of the three types of muscle cells

CORRECT ANSWER
Cardiac muscles make up the heart, which always needs to pump blood around the body
EDDIE SAYS
Cardiac muscle is tireless as it's essential for life. The cardiac muscle is responsible for pumping blood away from the heart towards the lungs and throughout the body.
  • Question 7

Picture of a root hair cell

Root hair cells have an important job to do. They allow water and minerals to be absorbed from the soil by osmosis.

 

How does the root hair cell allow water and minerals to be absorbed? Select two features.

CORRECT ANSWER
Thin walls for water and mineral ions to pass through
Large surface area to allow more contact with water molecules and ions
EDDIE SAYS
Root hair cells have thin walls that allow water and mineral ions to pass through really easily and quickly. The tiny projections of the root hair cell increase the surface area, allowing more water to be in contact with the cell. This means more water and minerals can pass into the root hair cell by osmosis, which is needed for the process of photosynthesis.
  • Question 8

Xylem cells are specialised cells found in plants. They are needed to transport water around the plant.

 

What is the structure of the xylem walls and how does this benefits the plant? Select two answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
Thick walls made of cellulose and lignin
Allows plant to be fully supported
EDDIE SAYS
Are you getting more confident? Water is essential for plants - they need it to photosynthesise, and so plants have their own network of xylem vessels. The xylem vessels are strengthened by lignin, which offers the plant support.
  • Question 9

The phloem is involved in transporting sugars around the plant, which is called translocation.

 

Describe the process of translocation

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Translocation is the movement of sugars (usually sucrose) from the place where they're made (usually leaves) to where they're needed most. The sugar enters the phloem vessel and is transported up and down the plant.
  • Question 10

Compare the key features of the sperm, nerve, muscle, root hair cell, xylem and phloem cells. Select all applicable answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
 SpermNerveMuscleRoot hairXylemPhloem
Contains mitochondria for energy supply
Has a large surface area
Transports glucose
Has a fatty sheath for fast transmission
Allows movement of substances in one direction only
Translocation occurs here
Made of dead cells
Made of living cells
Haploid cell
Allows contraction
EDDIE SAYS
Here you have a summary and quick comparison of the six main types of specialised cells. This would be a great way to remember the main points for a longer exam question. You can see that the sperm, muscle and phloem cells are similar in that they all contain mitochondria for energy release for their specific functions and processes. All other features are unique to each cell. Great focus, that’s another activity completed!
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