What is Meiosis and what are the phases of Meiosis?
Meiosis, is a special type of cell division necessary for sexual reproduction in eukaryotes. The cells produced by meiosis are gametes. In many organisms, including all animals and land plants (but not some other groups such as fungi), gametes are called sperm and egg cells.
Meiosis begins with one diploid cell containing 2 copies of each chromosome—one from the organism’s mother and one from its father. The cell then divides twice, producing up to four haploid cells containing one copy of each chromosome. In animals the haploid cell resulting from meiosis is a male or female gamete. Each of the resulting chromosomes in the gamete cells is a unique mixture of maternal and paternal DNA, resulting in offspring that are genetically distinct from either parent. This gives rise to genetic diversity in sexually reproducing populations.
Because meiosis is a “one-way” process, it cannot be said to engage in a cell cycle as mitosis does. However, the preparatory steps that lead up to meiosis are identical in pattern and name to the interphase of the mitotic cell cycle.
Interphase is divided into three phases
- Growth 1 (G1) phase: This is a very active period, where the cell synthesizes its vast array of proteins, including the enzymes and structural proteins it will need for growth. In G1 stage each of the chromosomes consists of a single (very long) molecule of DNA. In humans, at this point cells are 46 chromosomes, 2N, identical to somatic cells.
- Synthesis (S) phase: The genetic material is replicated: each of its chromosomes duplicates, so that each of the 46 chromosomes becomes a complex of two identical sister chromatids. The cell is still considered diploid because it still contains the same number of centromeres. The identical sister chromatids have not yet condensed into the densely packaged chromosomes visible with the light microscope. This will take place during prophase I in meiosis.
- Growth 2 (G2) phase: G2 phase as seen before mitosis is not present in Meiosis. Actually, the first four stages of prophase I in many respects correspond to the G2 phase of mitotic cell cycle.
Interphase is followed by meiosis I and then meiosis II. Meiosis I consists of separating the pairs of homologous chromosome, each made up of two sister chromatids, into two cells. One entire haploid content of chromosomes is contained in each of the resulting daughter cells; the first meiotic division therefore reduces the ploidy of the original cell by a factor of 2.
Meiosis II consists of decoupling each chromosome’s sister strands (chromatids), and segregating the individual chromatids into haploid daughter cells. The two cells resulting from meiosis I divide during meiosis II, creating 4 haploid daughter cells. Meiosis I and II are each divided into prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase stages, similar in purpose to their analogous subphases in the mitotic cell cycle. Therefore, meiosis includes the stages of meiosis I (prophase I, metaphase I, anaphase I, telophase I), and meiosis II (prophase II, metaphase II, anaphase II, telophase II).
Meiosis generates genetic diversity in two ways: independent alignment and subsequent separation of homologous chromosome pairs during the first meiotic division allows a random and independent selection of each chromosome segregates into each gamete; and physical exchange of homologous chromosomal regions by homologous recombination during prophase I results in new combinations of DNA within chromosomes.
Meiosis I separates homologous chromosomes, producing two haploid cells (N chromosomes, 23 in humans), and thus meiosis I is referred to as a reductional division. A regular diploid human cell contains 46 chromosomes and is considered 2N because it contains 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes. However, after meiosis I, although the cell contains 46 chromatids, it is only considered as being N, with 23 chromosomes. This is because later, in Anaphase I, the sister chromatids will remain together as the spindle fibers pull the pair toward the pole of the new cell. In meiosis II, an equational division similar to mitosis will occur whereby the sister chromatids are finally split, creating a total of 4 haploid cells (23 chromosomes, N) – two from each daughter cell from the first division.
It is the longest phase of meiosis. During prophase I, DNA is exchanged between homologous chromosomes in a process called homologous recombination. This often results in chromosomal crossover. The new combinations of DNA created during crossover are a significant source of genetic variation, and may result in beneficial new combinations of alleles. The paired and replicated chromosomes are called bivalents or tetrads, which have two chromosomes and four chromatids, with one chromosome coming from each parent. The process of pairing the homologous chromosomes is called synapsis. At this stage, non-sister chromatids may cross-over at points called chiasmata (plural; singular chiasma)
Homologous pairs move together along the metaphase plate: As kinetochore microtubules from both centrioles attach to their respective kinetochores, the homologous chromosomes align along an equatorial plane that bisects the spindle, due to continuous counterbalancing forces exerted on the bivalents by the microtubules emanating from the two kinetochores of homologous chromosomes. The physical basis of the independent assortment of chromosomes is the random orientation of each bivalent along the metaphase plate, with respect to the orientation of the other bivalents along the same equatorial line.
Kinetochore (bipolar spindles) microtubules shorten, severing the recombination nodules and pulling homologous chromosomes apart. Since each chromosome has only one functional unit of a pair of kinetochores, whole chromosomes are pulled toward opposing poles, forming two haploid sets. Each chromosome still contains a pair of sister chromatids. During this time disjunction occurs, which is one of the processes leading to genetic diversity as each chromosome can end up in either of the daughter cells. Nonkinetochore microtubules lengthen, pushing the centrioles farther apart. The cell elongates in preparation for division down the center.
The first meiotic division effectively ends when the chromosomes arrive at the poles. Each daughter cell now has half the number of chromosomes but each chromosome consists of a pair of chromatids. The microtubules that make up the spindle network disappear, and a new nuclear membrane surrounds each haploid set. The chromosomes uncoil back into chromatin. Cytokinesis, the pinching of the cell membrane in animal cells or the formation of the cell wall in plant cells, occurs, completing the creation of two daughter cells. Sister chromatids remain attached during telophase I.
Cells may enter a period of rest known as interkinesis or interphase II. No DNA replication occurs during this stage.
Meiosis II is the second part of the meiotic process, also known as equational division. Mechanically, the process is similar to mitosis, though its genetic results are fundamentally different. The end result is production of four haploid cells (23 chromosomes, N in humans) from the two haploid cells (23 chromosomes, N * each of the chromosomes consisting of two sister chromatids) produced in meiosis I. The four main steps of Meiosis II are: Prophase II, Metaphase II, Anaphase II, and Telophase II.
In prophase II we see the disappearance of the nucleoli and the nuclear envelope again as well as the shortening and thickening of the chromatids. Centrioles move to the polar regions and arrange spindle fibers for the second meiotic division.
In metaphase II, the centromeres contain two kinetochores that attach to spindle fibers from the centrosomes (centrioles) at each pole. The new equatorial metaphase plate is rotated by 90 degrees when compared to meiosis I, perpendicular to the previous plate.
This is followed by anaphase II, where the centromeres are cleaved, allowing microtubules attached to the kinetochores to pull the sister chromatids apart. The sister chromatids by convention are now called sister chromosomes as they move toward opposing poles.
The process ends with telophase II, which is similar to telophase I, and is marked by uncoiling and lengthening of the chromosomes and the disappearance of the spindle. Nuclear envelopes reform and cleavage or cell wall formation eventually produces a total of four daughter cells, each with a haploid set of chromosomes.
Meiosis is now complete and ends up with four new daughter cells.
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References Meiosis and Phases of Meiosis: