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The Incredible, Edible Cell

by Todd Howard & Nick Hoffman
Wallace High School Science Department

This activity is designed to reinforce the concepts of cell structures and functions. The student produces a cell model from various food items. Each food item will represent a specific part (organelle) of the cell. When the lab is completed, the cell model is edible.

This activity was developed since it is difficult for students to visualize cells as three dimensional structures. Most of the student exposure to cell structure is through diagrams in textbooks and it is hard for them to portray the cells as multidimensional.

In our procedure, we will refer to brand names since this is what we used. Other generic or different brand names are okay. You can substitute any other items if you have trouble finding some items in your location.

Before Day of Activity:
Follow the package directions to mix up batches of Jello gelatin mix. Pick a light colored flavor (we used kiwi-strawberry). Darker colors will make it difficult to see the inside of the cell when the model is completed. Every 6 oz package will make up 4 or 5 cells. Add some unflavored Knox gelatin to the Jello to make it set up a little stiffer (just regular Jello fell apart during our first test). Pour the Jello/Knox mixture into individual 9 oz Solo brand plastic cups until they are about two-thirds full. Put them into a refrigerator to set. We had cups that were still set ten days after the activity.

Obtain the other food materials to represent the organelles that will be studied. For our cell models, we tried to choose food items that would appear similar to the diagram the students had to use as a guide. Our list included:

  • 2 blue or green pieces of fruit roll up .. Golgi Bodies
  • 2 red or yellow pieces of fruit roll up .. Endoplasmic Reticulum
  • 1 teaspoon of round cake sprinkles .. Ribosomes
  • 4 hot tamales .. Mitochondria
  • 4 chocolate covered raisins .. Vacuoles
  • 1 gum ball .. Nucleus

Supplies for Organelles
We made up sets of this material and put them in small Dixie cups that could be handed out to each group (we worked in pairs). Each group will also need a paper plate and a plastic knife (make your decision about whether this part is age level appropriate).

Day of Activity:
For each group, provide the following:

  • 1Jello/Knox mixture in plastic cup
  • 1 paper plate
  • 1 small Dixie cup full of cell parts (organelle) materials
  • 1 plastic knife
  • 1 plastic spoon
Procedure for Activity:
  1. Remove the Jello from the plastic cup onto the paper plate. We had some problem with this. The students may need to run the knife around the very outside edge of the Jello to loosen it. There are some suggestions that you might spray the cup with Pam or some other non-stick material. We did not get a chance to try this yet. Running warm water over the cup may also loosen the Jello.

  2. Cut the Jello/Knox in half as shown in the diagram below and remove the top half.

    Turn over the top and set it on the plate beside the bottom half as shown in Picture 1.

    Picture 1

  3. Use the spoon to dig out a hole in the bottom half of the Jello/Knox cytoplasm (Picture 2). Just pushing the food pieces into the Jello causes it to crack and come apart, making for a very messy cell. Place the gumball in this hole to represent the nucleus of the cell (Picture 3).

    Picture 2

    Picture 3

  4. Using the spoon to make spaces and your diagram as a guide, place the other cell parts into the cell. Parts can be put into both the top and bottom half of the Jello/Knox cell (see pictures below).

    Picture 4

    Picture 5

    Picture 6

  5. When completed, one side of your cell should look something like the picture below.

    Picture 7

  6. Take the top part of the cell and carefully place it on the top. If the cell feels soft, you can put the parts back into the plastic cup, then turn it over onto the paper plate. Then carefully remove the plastic cup. Your finished cell should look something like the picture below.

    Picture 8

  7. After reviewing the parts one final time, those students who wish to can feast on their cell. Give the students clean spoons in case the ones they were working with fell on the floor or the table was not completely clean.

If you use this activity and have any suggestions or other feedback, please send email by clicking below. Thanks, we hope you and your students enjoyed this activity.

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