Cell division is the process by which cells multiply during the growth of tissues or organs. The type of cell division involved in the growth of the body is called mitosis. The cell division which produces the reproductive cells is called meiosis.
- Main Article: Reproduction
For most unicellular organisms, reproduction is a simple matter of cell duplication, also known as replication. But for multicellular organisms, cell replication and reproduction are two separate processes. Multicellular organisms replace damaged or worn out cells through a replication process called mitosis, the division of a eukaryotic cell nucleus to produce two identical daughter nuclei. To reproduce, eukaryotes must first create special cells called gametes—eggs and sperm—that then fuse to form the beginning of a new organism. Gametes are but one of the many unique cell types that multicellular organisms need to function as a complete organism.
Most unicellular organisms create their next generation by replicating all of their parts and then splitting into two cells, a type of asexual reproduction called binary fission. This process spawns not just two new cells, but also two new organisms. Multicellular organisms replicate new cells in much the same way. For example, we produce new skin cells and liver cells by replicating the DNA found in that cell through mitosis. Yet, producing a whole new organism requires sexual reproduction, at least for most multicellular organisms. In the first step, specialized cells called gametes—eggs and sperm—are created through a process called meiosis. Meiosis serves to reduce the chromosome number for that particular organism by half. In the second step, the sperm and egg join to make a single cell, which restores the chromosome number. This joined cell then divides and differentiates into different cell types that eventually form an entire functioning organism.
- Main Article: Mitosis
Every time a cell divides, it must ensure that its DNA is shared between the two daughter cells. Mitosis is the process of "divvying up" the genome between the daughter cells. To easier describe this process, let's imagine a cell with only one chromosome. Before a cell enters mitosis, we say the cell is in interphase, the state of a eukaryotic cell when not undergoing division. Every time a cell divides, it must first replicate all of its DNA. Because chromosomes are simply DNA wrapped around protein, the cell replicates its chromosomes also. These two chromosomes, positioned side by side, are called sister chromatids and are identical copies of one another. Before this cell can divide, it must separate these sister chromatids from one another. To do this, the chromosomes have to condense. This stage of mitosis is called prophase. Next, the nuclear envelope breaks down, and a large protein network, called the spindle, attaches to each sister chromatid. The chromosomes are now aligned perpendicular to the spindle in a process called metaphase. Next, "molecular motors" pull the chromosomes away from the metaphase plate to the spindle poles of the cell. This is called anaphase. Once this process is completed, the cells divide, the nuclear envelope reforms, and the chromosomes relax and decondense during telophase. The cell can now replicate its DNA again during interphase and go through mitosis once more.
- Main Article: Meiosis
Meiosis is a specialized type of cell division that occurs during the formation of gametes. Although meiosis may seem much more complicated than mitosis, it is really just two cell divisions in sequence. Each of these sequences maintains strong similarities to mitosis.
Meiosis I refers to the first of the two divisions and is often called the reduction division. This is because it is here that the chromosome complement is reduced from diploid (two copies) to haploid (one copy). Interphase in meiosis is identical to interphase in mitosis. At this stage, there is no way to determine what type of division the cell will undergo when it divides. Meiotic division will only occur in cells associated with male or female sex organs. Prophase I is virtually identical to prophase in mitosis, involving the appearance of the chromosomes, the development of the spindle apparatus, and the breakdown of the nuclear membrane. Metaphase I is where the critical difference occurs between meiosis and mitosis. In mitosis, all of the chromosomes line up on the metaphase plate in no particular order. In Metaphase I, the chromosome pairs are aligned on either side of the metaphase plate. It is during this alignment that the chromatid arms may overlap and temporarily fuse, resulting in what is called crossovers. During Anaphase I, the spindle fibers contract, pulling the homologous pairs away from each other and toward each pole of the cell. In Telophase I, a cleavage furrow typically forms, followed by cytokinesis, the changes that occur in the cytoplasm of a cell during nuclear division; but the nuclear membrane is usually not reformed, and the chromosomes do not disappear. At the end of Telophase I, each daughter cell has a single set of chromosomes, half the total number in the original cell, that is, while the original cell was diploid; the daughter cells are now haploid.
Meiosis II is quite simply a mitotic division of each of the haploid cells produced in Meiosis I. There is no Interphase between Meiosis I and Meiosis II, and the latter begins with Prophase II. At this stage, a new set of spindle fibers forms and the chromosomes begin to move toward the equator of the cell. During Metaphase II, all of the chromosomes in the two cells align with the metaphase plate. In Anaphase II, the centromeres split, and the spindle fibers shorten, drawing the chromosomes toward each pole of the cell. In Telophase II, a cleavage furrow develops, followed by cytokinesis and the formation of the nuclear membrane. The chromosomes begin to fade and are replaced by the granular chromatin, a characteristic of interphase. When Meiosis II is complete, there will be a total of four daughter cells, each with half the total number of chromosomes as the original cell. In the case of male structures, all four cells will eventually develop into sperm cells. In the case of the female life cycles in higher organisms, three of the cells will typically abort, leaving a single cell to develop into an egg cell, which is much larger than a sperm cell.
- What is a Cell? by the National Center for Biotechnology Information