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Cell Analogy-comparing a Cell with a Glass Recycling Company

Updated on September 21, 2014


A glass recycling company seems weird, but I like it! It is interesting to know that managing a company like a cell is essential for the survival of the company. Thats why I have likened a company to a cell.

The overview of biology of an animal cell
The overview of biology of an animal cell

Main components

I take the cell membrane as the gate guarding the factory compound. Animal cell or plant cell always have a selectively permeable cell membrane that allows only certain substances passing into and out of the cell. Like cell membrane, only authorised staff allowed to enter the factory compound.

Cytoplasm is like the ground in the factory compound. Cytoplasm is the medium that holds the cell organelles. Just like the cytoplasm, the ground holds various buildings that do various functions in the factory compound.

Mitochondria are like fuel that feeds and powers the boiler and electrical supply that powers the company. Mitochondria releases energy in the form of ATP that powers many of the life processes in a cell.

Nucleus resembles an administrative building. Administrative building functions like a command center that directs the day-to-day operations of the company, including the factory itself. Like administrative building, nucleus controls every living process happening inside a cell.

Cytoskeleton is the building foundation and network of roads connecting from one building to another. So cytoskeleton functions to keep the organelles in place and when related to contractile proteins like actin and myosin, it involves in the movements of vesicles and organelles throughout the cell.

The company can choose to install solar panels (chloroplast) just to save their cost of manufacturing by tapping free energy from the sun.

Structures inside the nucleus
Structures inside the nucleus

Inside the administrative building

Before we enter the nucleus, there is a porous membrane surrounding it called nuclear membrane. Like cell membrane, nuclear membrane resembles the door entering the administrative building which allows only related people to come in and out.

Chief executive officer represents chromosomes. He is the decision maker at the highest level which affected the way the company conducts its operation. Chromosomes contain genetic material which directs the type of protein synthesized and the protein produced regulate cellular activities.

Purchasing manager working in the administrative building represents nucleolus. Purchasing manager is responsible for buying parts of equipment which is later assembled and function as the molding machine. This is consistent with the role of nucleolus which produces ribosomal parts and enters the cytoplasm to produce ribosome.

Description about rough endoplasmic reticulum
Description about rough endoplasmic reticulum

Assembly line inside a factory

Crusher and the boiler of used glass represents lysosomes. Glass is the raw material in this case to produce new glass. Like the crusher/boiler, old cell organelles are digested by enzymes released by lysosomes and the digested products reused again in building new cell organelles.

Molding machine represents ribosomes. Molding machine is responsible for making new glass wares from the melted glass, just like the proteins from amino acids in the real ribosomes.

Rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) is the conveyor belt. It transports blown glass wares to a specific destination. Sorting machine separates different types of glass wares. For example, bottles separates from glass containers. So this signifies the double role of RER, which are the protein transport and sorting pathway.

Golgi apparatus is the colouring and packaging center of glass wares. Here, desired colours added to the glass wares. All the completed glass wares are then packaged in boxes and ready for sell. This is similar to the protein modification by Golgi apparatus where glucose combined with protein to form glycoprotein and the modified proteins packaged into vesicles for transported out of the cell.

Essential Cell Biology
Essential Cell Biology

This illustrated book is a good in providing fundamental concepts for students in cell biology. Besides, it also complements with DVD video to make the learning in an interesting way.

Molecular and Cell Biology For Dummies
Molecular and Cell Biology For Dummies

This book explains the complex concepts of molecular and cell biology in the simpliest manner. Besides, it also contain tips in helping the students to achieve higher scores in exams!

Structure of peroxisomes
Structure of peroxisomes

So, what happen to waste materials?

Vacuole is prominent in plants. So it resembles a big dustbin with waste products (organic waste, plastic, paper etc) in this case. Imagine how smelly it is? So vacuole is a dumpsites of unwanted products. But mainly, water storage house is also a good depiction of a vacuole's function. But in lower animal cells, less prominent vacuoles functions as a water pump or even a truck loaded with food. So it is food vacuoles, isn't it? It is very difficult to describe vacuole with just one analogy because of its multiple functions. I can't think of something in the visible world that functions completely like a vacuole.

Peroxisomes are the detoxifiers fixed at the top of the toxic gas outlet. Its main function is to convert toxic gases to a less harmful one. Peroxisomes detoxified hydrogen peroxide to water by using enzyme catalase with oxygen gas.

Sturcture of centrioles
Sturcture of centrioles


How can a company reproduce? If you accumulate enough money in your company treasury with good financial outlook, you can expand your business by opening a second glass recycling company! So I introduce this term, centrioles (only found in animal cells). I think that the most suitable analogy for centrioles is staff vehicles! Staff vehicles transport some number of the workers from the mother company, including some decision makers. Centrioles, working similar to vehicles, uses spindle fibres to pull half of the replicated chromosomes to opposite poles. When mother cell successfully divides, the chromosomes distributed equally in both cells.


There are many ways where you can describe a cell using an analogy. Some of the other interesting analogies include a musical performance, a country, or a school. Do search on YouTube for more interesting cell analogies!

What do you think about this cell analogy, is it interesting?

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