Difference Between Cell wall and Cell membrane

difference between cell wall and cell membrane

Difference between Cell wall and Cell membrane: While both residing outside the cell, the cell wall and cell membrane play distinct roles. The cell wall, found in plants, fungi, and some bacteria, is a rigid outer shell made of cellulose or other polysaccharides, providing structural support and protection from mechanical stress. In contrast, the cell membrane, present in all living cells, is a flexible, semi-permeable barrier composed of phospholipids and proteins. It controls what enters and exits the cell, facilitates communication with other cells, and maintains a stable internal environment. Think of the cell wall as a sturdy castle wall, and the cell membrane as a dynamic gatekeeper that regulates traffic within the kingdom.

Cell Wall

  • Outermost layer, only in plants, fungi, and some bacteria.
  • Rigid structure & support, protects against mechanical stress.
  • Made of polysaccharides (cellulose in plants).
  • Not selectively permeable, controls little to no transport.

Cell Membrane

  • Found in all living cells, inside the cell wall (if present).
  • Semipermeable barrier, controls movement of molecules in & out.
  • Made of phospholipids & proteins, flexible & dynamic.
  • Acts as a gatekeeper, regulating cell communication & signalling.

Difference between Cell Wall and Cell Membrane

Both the cell wall and cell membrane are crucial barriers protecting and regulating what enters and exits a cell. While often confused, they have distinct features Let's fall into the difference between Cell Wall and Cell Membrane:


Cell Wall

Cell Membrane


Primarily cellulose, chitin, or peptidoglycan

Lipids (phospholipids), proteins, and carbohydrates


Outside the cell membrane

Inside the cell wall in plants; present in all cell types


Generally porous, less precise regulation

Selectively permeable, precise regulation


Structural support, shape determination

Regulates entry and exit of substances, involved in signaling


Relatively rigid and inflexible

Flexible and dynamic

Found in

Plants, fungi, bacteria, some archaea

All living cells, including plants, animals, fungi, bacteria

Primary Component

Cellulose, chitin, peptidoglycan

Lipids, especially phospholipids


Dead at maturity (in plant cells), alive in bacteria, fungi

Always alive and active


Produced during growth

Continuously synthesized by the cell

Selective Permeability

Not selectively permeable

Selectively permeable, allowing specific molecules

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What is Cell Wall?

Imagine a castle's protective outer wall, but on a cellular level - that's the cell wall. It's a rigid layer surrounding plant, fungi, and some bacteria cells, made of tough materials like cellulose for plants. It provides structural support, protects against environmental stress, and helps maintain the cell's shape. Think of it as a sturdy barrier keeping the inner workings safe.

Key Features of Cell Wall:

  • Rigid Armour: Unlike the flexible cell membrane, the cell wall is a rigid outer layer, providing structural support and shape to the cell. Think of it as a sturdy castle wall surrounding the cell.
  • Plant-Exclusive: Only plant cells, bacteria, fungi, and some algae have cell walls. Animal cells lack this rigid structure, relying solely on the cell membrane.
  • Composition Variety: Cell walls vary in composition depending on the organism. Plants typically have cellulose walls, while bacteria have peptidoglycan walls. Fungi have walls made of chitin, same as insect exoskeletons.
  • Selective Permeability: Cell walls are generally less selective than cell membranes, allowing some molecules like water and small ions to pass through smoothly. However, they can still work as the barrier against large molecules and pathogens.

What is Cell Membrane?

Every living cell has a cell membrane, also called the plasma membrane. This flexible, semipermeable barrier acts like a bouncer at a club, carefully controlling what enters and exits the cell. Made of phospholipids and proteins, it allows essential nutrients and water in while keeping harmful substances out. It also plays a crucial role in communication, sending and receiving signals that regulate cell functions. So, the cell membrane ensures the right balance of traffic for a healthy cell.

Key Features of Cell Membrane:

  • Flexible Gatekeeper: The cell membrane is a thin, flexible barrier made of phospholipids and proteins. It controls the movement of molecules in and out of the cell, acting as a selective gatekeeper.
  • Universal Presence: All living cells, from bacteria to humans, have a cell membrane. It's the fundamental barrier separating the internal workings of the cell from the external environment.
  • Phospholipid Bilayer: The main building block of the cell membrane is a phospholipid bilayer. Imagine two layers of fat molecules sandwiched together with their heads facing outwards and tails facing inwards, creating a semi-permeable barrier.
  • Protein Powerhouse: Embedded in the phospholipid bilayer are various proteins that serve specific functions. Some act as channels for specific molecules, while others act as receptors, sending signals to the cell interior.

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Similarities between Cell Wall and Cell Membrane

  • Boundary: Both structures act as boundaries that separate the interior of the cell from the external environment.
  • Present in Cells: Found in all types of cells, though the presence of a cell wall varies among different organisms.
  • Structural Support: Both contribute to the structural integrity of the cell.
  • Protection: They provide protection to the cell against external stresses and pathogens.
  • Biological Importance: Crucial for the overall functioning and survival of the cell.

Often confused as one and the same, the cell wall and cell membrane play distinct roles in protecting and routinizing the inner functions of a cell. While both forming an outer barrier, their composition, location, and permeability create key differences. Unlike the living, selectively permeable cell membrane, the cell wall is a non-living, rigid structure composed mainly of cellulose in plants, offering sturdy support and protection from mechanical stress. Located outside the cell membrane, the wall provides additional defence against pathogens and harsh environments. Conversely, the flexible cell membrane, found in all living organisms, is a phospholipid bilayer embedded with proteins. This dynamic structure acts as a gatekeeper, controlling the flow of molecules and ions in and out of the cell. Its selective permeability allows vital nutrients and signalling molecules to pass through, while keeping harmful substances at bay. In essence, the cell wall provides a sturdy outer shell, while the cell membrane acts as a discerning gatekeeper, safeguarding the delicate balance within the cell.

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What is the primary function of the cell wall and cell membrane in a cell?

The cell wall provides structural support and protection to the cell, while the cell membrane regulates the passage of substances in and out of the cell.

What are the main components of the cell wall and cell membrane?

The cell wall is primarily composed of cellulose (in plants) or peptidoglycan (in bacteria), while the cell membrane is made up of phospholipids, proteins, and carbohydrates.

How do the structures of the cell wall and cell membrane differ?

The cell wall is a rigid outer layer that surrounds the cell, maintaining its shape, whereas the cell membrane is a flexible barrier that encloses the cell and controls its internal environment.

Are cell walls found in all types of cells?

No, cell walls are primarily present in plant cells, fungal cells, and bacterial cells, while animal cells lack a rigid cell wall.

What is the role of the cell membrane in maintaining homeostasis?

The cell membrane regulates the passage of ions and molecules, helping to maintain a balance in the cell's internal environment and ensuring optimal conditions for cellular processes.

Can substances freely pass through the cell wall?

No, the cell wall is a semi-permeable barrier that restricts the passage of large molecules and ions, unlike the cell membrane, which is selectively permeable.

Do both the cell wall and cell membrane contribute to the cell's protection?

Yes, both structures play a role in protecting the cell. The cell wall provides physical protection, while the cell membrane regulates the entry and exit of substances to prevent harmful elements from entering.

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