Cell division is a very important process in all living organisms. Cell division, DNA replication, and cell growth have to take place in a coordinated way to ensure correct division and formation of progeny cells containing intact genomes.
The sequence of events by which a cell duplicates its genome, synthesises the other constituents of the cell and eventually divides into two daughter cells is termed cell cycle. Although cell growth (in terms of cytoplasmic increase) is a continuous process, DNA synthesis occurs only during one specific stage in the cell cycle. The replicated chromosomes (DNA) are then distributed to daughter nuclei by a complex series of events during cell division. These events are themselves under genetic control.
Phases of Cell Cycle
The cell cycle is divided into two basic phases:
- M Phase (Mitosis phase)
The M Phase represents the phase when the actual cell division or mitosis occurs and the interphase represents the phase between two successive M phases. It is significant to note that in the 24 hour average duration of cell cycle of a human cell, cell division proper lasts for only about an hour. The interphase lasts more than 95% of the duration of cell cycle. The M Phase starts with the nuclear division, corresponding to the separation of daughter chromosomes (karyokinesis) and usually ends with division of cytoplasm (cytokinesis). The interphase, though called the resting phase, is the time during which the cell is preparing for division by undergoing both cell growth and DNA replication in an orderly manner.
The interphase is divided into three further phases:
- G1 phase (Gap 1)
- S phase (Synthesis)
- G2 phase (Gap 2)
G1 phase corresponds to the interval between mitosis and initiation of DNA replication. During G1 phase the cell is metabolically active and continuously grows but does not replicate its DNA. S or synthesis phase marks the period during which DNA synthesis or replication takes place. During this time the amount of DNA per cell doubles. If the initial amount of DNA is denoted as 2C then it increases to 4C. However, there is no increase in the chromosome number; if the cell had diploid or 2n number of chromosomes at G1, even after S phase the number of chromosomes remains the same, i.e., 2n. In animal cells, during the S phase, DNA replication begins in the nucleus, and the centriole duplicates in the cytoplasm. During the G2 phase, proteins are synthesised in preparation for mitosis while cell growth continues. Some cells in the adult animals do not appear to exhibit division (e.g., heart cells) and many other cells divide only occasionally, as needed to replace cells that have been lost because of injury or cell death. These cells that do not divide further exit G1 phase to enter an inactive stage called quiescent stage (G0) of the cell cycle. Cells in this stage remain metabolically active but no longer proliferate unless called on to do so depending on the requirement of the organism.
In animals, mitotic cell division is only seen in the diploid somatic cells. Against this, the plants can show mitotic divisions in both haploid and diploid cells
This is the most dramatic period of the cell cycle, involving a major reorganisation of virtually all components of the cell. Since the number of chromosomes in the parent and progeny cells is the same, it is also called as equational division. Though for convenience mitosis has been divided into four stages of nuclear division (karyokinesis), it is very essential to understand that cell division is a progressive process and very clear-cut lines cannot be drawn between various stages. Karyokinesis involves following four stages:
Prophase which is the first stage of karyokinesis of mitosis follows the S and G2 phases of interphase. In the S and G2 phases the new DNA molecules formed are not distinct but intertwined. Prophase is marked by the initiation of condensation of chromosomal material. The chromosomal material becomes untangled during the process of chromatin condensation. The centrosome, which had undergone duplication during S phase of interphase, now begins to move towards opposite poles of the cell. The completion of prophase can thus be marked by the following characteristic events:
- Chromosomal material condenses to form compact mitotic chromosomes. Chromosomes are seen to be composed of two chattached together at the centromere.
- Centrosome which had undergone duplication during interphase, begins to move towards opposite poles of the cell. Each centrosome radiates out microtubules called asters. The two asters together with spindle fibres forms mitotic apparatus. Cells at the end of prophase, when viewed under the microscope, do not show golgi complexes, endoplasmic reticulum, nucleolus and the nuclear envelope.
The complete disintegration of the nuclear envelope marks the start of the second phase of mitosis, hence the chromosomes are spread through the cytoplasm of the cell. By this stage, condensation of chromosomes is completed and they can be observed clearly under the microscope. This then, is the stage at which morphology of chromosomes is most easily studied. At this stage, metaphase chromosome is made up of two sister chromatids, which are held together by the centromere. Small disc-shaped structures at the surface of the centromeres are called kinetochores. These structures serve as the sites of attachment of spindle fibres (formed by the spindle fibres) to the chromosomes that are moved into position at the centre of the cell. Hence, the metaphase is characterised by all the chromosomes coming to lie at the equator with one chromatid of each chromosome connected by its kinetochore to spindle fibres from one pole and its sister chromatid connected by its kinetochore to spindle fibres from the opposite pole The plane of alignment of the chromosomes at metaphase is referred to as the metaphase plate. The key features of metaphase are:
- Spindle fibres attach to kinetochores of chromosomes.
- Chromosomes are moved to spindle equator and get aligned along metaphase plate through spindle fibres to both poles.
At the onset of anaphase, each chromosome arranged at the metaphase plate is split simultaneously and the two daughter chromatids, now referred to as daughter chromosomes of the future daughter nuclei, begin their migration towards the two opposite poles. As each chromosome moves away from the equatorial plate, the centromere of each chromosome remains directed towards the pole and hence at the leading edge, with the arms of the chromosome trailing behind. Thus, anaphase stage is characterised bythe following key events:
- Centromeres split and chromatids separate.
- Chromatids move to opposite poles.
At the beginning of the final stage of karyokinesis, i.e., telophase, the chromosomes that have reached their respective poles decondense and lose their individuality. The individual chromosomes can no longer be seen and each set of chromatin material tends to collect at each of the two poles . This is the stage which shows the following key events:
- Chromosomes cluster at opposite spindle poles and their identity is lost as discrete elements.
- Nuclear envelope develops around the chromosome clusters at each pole forming two daughter nuclei.
- Nucleolus, golgi complex and ER reform.
Mitosis accomplishes not only the segregation of duplicated chromosomes into daughter nuclei (karyokinesis), but the cell itself is divided into two daughter cells by the separation of cytoplasm called cytokinesis at the end of which cell division gets completed. In an animal cell, this is achieved by the appearance of a furrow in the plasma membrane. The furrow gradually deepens and ultimately joins in the centre dividing the cell cytoplasm into two. At the time of cytoplasmic division, organelles like mitochondria and plastids get distributed between the two daughter cells. In some organisms karyokinesis is not followed by cytokinesis as a result of which multinucleate condition arises leading to the formation of syncytium (e.g., liquid endosperm in coconut).
Significance of Mitosis
Mitosis or the equational division is usually restricted to the diploid cells only. However, in some lower plants and in some social insects haploid cells also divide by mitosis. It is very essential to understand the significance of this division in the life of an organism. Mitosis usually results in the production of diploid daughter cells with identical genetic complement. The growth of multicellular organisms is due to mitosis. Cell growth results in disturbing the ratio between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. It therefore becomes essential for the cell to divide to restore the nucleo-cytoplasmic ratio. A very significant contribution of mitosis is cell repair. The cells of the upper layer of the epidermis, cells of the lining of the gut, and blood cells are being constantly replaced.
The production of offspring by sexual reproduction includes the fusion of two gametes, each with a complete haploid set of chromosomes. Gametes are formed from specialised diploid cells. This specialised kind of cell division that reduces the chromosome number by half results in the production of haploid daughter cells. This kind of division is called meiosis. Meiosis ensures the production of haploid phase in the life cycle of sexually reproducing organisms whereas fertilisation restores the diploid phase. We come across meiosis during gametogenesis in plants and animals. This leads to the formation of haploid gametes. The key features of meiosis are as follows:
- Meiosis involves two sequential cycles of nuclear and cell division called meiosis I and meiosis II but only a single cycle of DNA replication.
- Meiosis I is initiated after the parental chromosomes have replicated to produce identical sister chromatids at the S phase.
- Meiosis involves pairing of homologous chromosomes and recombination between non-sister chromatids of homologous chromosomes.
- Four haploid cells are formed at the end of meiosis II.
Meiotic events can be grouped under the following phases:
Meiosis I Prophase I – Metaphase I – Anaphase I – Telophase I
Meiosis II Prophase II -Metaphase II -Anaphase II -Telophase II
Prophase I: Prophase of the first meiotic division is typically longer and more complex when compared to prophase of mitosis. It has been further subdivided into the following five phases based on chromosomal behaviour, i.e., Leptotene, Zygotene, Pachytene, Diplotene and Diakinesis. During leptotene stage the chromosomes become gradually visible under the light microscope. The compaction of chromosomes continues throughout leptotene. This is followed by the second stage of prophase I called zygotene. During this stage chromosomes start pairing together and this process of association is called synapsis. Such paired chromosomes are called homologous chromosomes. Chromosome synapsis is accompanied by the formation of complex structure called synaptonemal complex. The complex formed by a pair of synapsed homologous chromosomes is called a bivalent or a tetrad. However, these are more clearly visible at the next stage. The first two stages of prophase I are relatively short-lived compared to the next stage that is pachytene. During this stage, the four chromatids of each bivalent chromosomes becomes distinct and clearly appears as tetrads. This stage is characterised by the appearance of recombination nodules, the sites at which crossing over occurs between non-sister chromatids of the homologous chromosomes. Crossing over is the exchange of genetic material between two homologous chromosomes. Crossing over is also an enzyme-mediated process and the enzyme involved is called recombinase. Crossing over leads to recombination of genetic material on the two chromosomes. Recombination between homologous chromosomes is completed by the end of pachytene, leaving the chromosomes linked at the sites of crossing over. The beginning of diplotene is recognised by the dissolution of the synaptonemal complex and the tendency of the recombined homologous chromosomes of the bivalents to separate from each other except at the sites of crossovers. These X-shaped structures, are called chiasmata. In oocytes of some vertebrates, diplotene can last for months or years. The final stage of meiotic prophase I is diakinesis. This is marked by terminalisation of chiasmata. During this phase the chromosomes are fully condensed and the meiotic spindle is assembled to prepare the homologous chromosomes for separation. By the end of diakinesis, the nucleolus disappears and the nuclear envelope also breaks down. Diakinesis represents transition to metaphase.
Metaphase I: The bivalent chromosomes align on the equatorial plate. The microtubules from the opposite poles of the spindle attach to the kinetochore of homologous chromosomes.
Anaphase I: The homologous chromosomes separate, while sister chromatids remain associated at their centromeres .
Telophase I: The nuclear membrane and nucleolus reappear, cytokinesis follows and this is called as dyad of cells. Although in many cases the chromosomes do undergo some dispersion, they do not reach the extremely extended state of the interphase nucleus. The stage between
the two meiotic divisions is called interkinesis and is generally short lived. There is no replication of DNA during interkinesis. Interkinesis is followed by prophase II, a much simpler prophase than prophase I.
Prophase II: Meiosis II is initiated immediately after cytokinesis, usually before the chromosomes have fully elongated. In contrast to meiosis I, meiosis II resembles a normal mitosis. The nuclear membrane disappears by the end of prophase II . The chromosomes again become compact.
Metaphase II: At this stage the chromosomes align at the equator and the microtubules from opposite poles of the spindle get attached to the kinetochores of sister chromatids.
Anaphase II: It begins with the simultaneous splitting of the centromere of each chromosome (which was holding the sister chromatids together), allowing them to move toward opposite poles of the cell by shortening of microtubules attached to kinetochores.
Telophase II: Meiosis ends with telophase II, in which the two groups of chromosomes once again get enclosed by a nuclear envelope; cytokinesis follows resulting in the formation of tetrad of cells i.e., four haploid daughter cells.
SIGNIFICANCE OF MEIOSIS
Meiosis is the mechanism by which conservation of specific chromosome number of each species is achieved across generations in sexually reproducing organisms, even though the process, per se, paradoxically, results in reduction of chromosome number by half. It also increases the genetic variability in the population of organisms from one generation to the next. Variations are very important for the process of evolution.