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In biology, mitosis is the process by which a cell separates its duplicated genome into two identical halves. It is generally followed immediately by cytokinesis which divides the cytoplasm and cell membrane. This results in two identical daughter cells with a roughly equal distribution of organelles and other cellular components. Mitosis and cytokinesis together is defined as the mitotic (M) phase of the cell cycle, the division of the mother cell into two daughter cells, each the genetic equivalent of the parent cell.
Mitosis occurs exclusively in eukaryotic cells. In multicellular organisms, the somatic cells undergo mitosis, while germ cells - cells destined to become sperm in males or ova in females - divide by a related process called meiosis. Prokaryotic cells, which lack a nucleus, divide by a process called binary fission.
Because cytokinesis usually occurs in conjunction with mitosis, "mitosis" is often used interchangeably with "mitotic phase". However, there are many cells where mitosis and cytokinesis occur separately, forming single cells with multiple nuclei. This occurs most notably among the fungi and slime moulds, but is found in various different groups. Even in animals, cytokinesis and mitosis may occur independently, for instance during certain stages of fruit fly embryonic development.
The primary result of mitosis is the division of the parent cell's genome into two daughter cells. The genome is comprised of a number of chromosomes, complexes of tightly-coiled DNA that contain genetic information vital for proper cell function. Because each resultant daughter cell should be genetically identical to the parent cell, the parent cell must make a copy of each chromosome before mitosis. This occurs during the middle of interphase, the period that precedes the mitotic phase in the cell cycle where preparation for mitosis occurs.
Each chromosome now contains two identical copies of itself, called sister chromatids, attached together in a specialized region of the chromosome known as the centromere. Each sister chromatid is not considered a chromosome in itself.
In animals and plants, the nuclear envelope that separates the DNA from the cytoplasm degrades, and its fluid spills out into the cytoplasm. The chromosomes align themselves in an imaginary diameter line spanning the cell. Microtubules, essentially miniature strings, splay out from opposite ends of the cell and shorten, pulling apart the sister chromatids of each chromosome. As a matter of convention, each sister chromatid is now considered a chromosome, so they are renamed to sister chromosomes. As the cell elongates, corresponding sister chromosomes are pulled toward opposite ends. A new nuclear envelope forms around the separated sister chromosomes.
As mitosis completes cytokinesis is well underway. In animal cells, the cell pinches inward where the imaginary line used to be, separating the two developing nuclei. In plant cells, the daughter cells will construct a new dividing cell wall between each other. Eventually, the mother cell will be split in half, giving rise to two daughter cells, each with an equivalent and complete copy of the original genome.
Recall that prokaryotic cells undergo a similar process to mitosis called binary fission. Prokaryotes cannot be properly said to undergo mitosis because they lack a nucleus and only have a single chromosome with no centromere.
How mitosis distributes genetic information
In a diploid eukaryotic cell, there are two versions of each chromosome, one from the mother and another from the father. The two corresponding chromosomes are called homologous chromosomes. Homologous chromosomes need not be genetically identical. For example, a gene for eye color at one locus (location) on the father chromosome may code for green eyes, while the same locus on the mother chromosome may code for brown.
When DNA is replicated, each chromosome will make an identical copy of itself. The copies are called sister chromatids, and together they are considered one chromosome. After separation, however, each sister chromatid is considered a full-fledged chromosome by itself. The two copies of the original chromosome are then called sister chromosomes.
Mitosis allocates one copy, and only one copy, of each sister chromosome to a daughter cell. Consider the diagram above, which traces the distribution of chromosomes during mitosis. The blue and red chromosomes are homologous chromosomes. After DNA replication during S phase, each homologous chromosome contains two sister chromatids. After mitosis, the sister chromatids become sister chromosomes and part ways, going to separate daughter cells. Homologous chromosomes are therefore kept together, resulting in the complete transfer of the parent's genome.
It should be noted that "sister chromosomes", "sister chromatids", "mother cells", "daughter cells", and "parent cells" do not have actual gender. The use of feminine or masculine terminology is by scientific convention only.
Phases of mitosis
The mitotic phase is a relatively short action-packed period of the cell cycle. It alternates with the much longer interphase, where the cell prepares itself for division. Interphase is divided into three phases, G1 (first gap), S (synthesis), and G2 (second gap). During all three phases, the cell grows by producing proteins and cytoplasmic organelles. However, chromosomes are replicated only during the S phase. Thus, a cell grows (G1), continues to grow as it duplicates its chromosomes (S), grows more and prepares for mitosis (G2), and divides (M).
Mitosis is a continual and dynamic process. For purposes of description, however, mitosis is conventionally broken down into five subphases: prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.
Main article: Prophase
Normally, the genetic material (DNA) in the nucleus is in a loosely bundled coil called chromatin. At the onset of prophase, chromatin condenses together into a highly ordered structure called a chromosome. Since the genetic material has already been duplicated earlier in S phase, the chromosomes have two sister chromatids, bound together at the centromere by the protein cohesin. Chromosomes are visible at high magnification through a light microscope.
Just outside the nucleus are two centrosomes. Each centrosome, which was replicated earlier independent of mitosis, acts as a coordinating center for the cell's microtubules. The two centrosomes sprout microtubules (which may be thought of as cellular ropes or poles) by polymerizing free-floating tubulin protein. By repulsive interaction of these microtubules with each other, the centrosomes push themselves to opposite ends of the cell (although new research has shown that there might be a mechanism inside the centromeres that also grab the microtubules and pull the chromatids apart). The network of microtubules is the beginning of the mitotic spindle.
It should be noted that some centrosomes contain a pair of centrioles that may help organize microtubule assembly. However, they are not essential to formation of the mitotic spindle, because plant cells that lack centrioles have no trouble undergoing mitosis.
Main article: Prometaphase The nuclear envelope dissolves and microtubules invade the nuclear space. This is called open mitosis, and it occurs in most multicellular organisms. Some protists, such as algae, undergo a variation called closed mitosis where the microtubules are able to penetrate an intact nuclear envelope.
Each chromosome forms two kinetochores at the centromere, one attached at each chromatid. A kinetochore is a complex protein structure that is analogous to a ring for the microtubule hook; it is the point where microtubules attach themselves to the chromosome. Although the kinetochore is not fully understood, it is known that it contains a molecular motor. When a microtubule connects with the kinetochore, the motor activates, using energy from ATP to "crawl" up the tube toward the originating centrosome. The kinetochore provides the pulling force necessary to later separate the chromosome's two chromatids.
When the spindle grows to sufficient length, kinetochore microtubules begin searching for kinetochores to attach to. A number of nonkinetochore microtubules find and interact with corresponding nonkinetochore microtubules from the opposite centrosome to form the mitotic spindle.
Prometaphase is sometimes considered part of prophase.
Main article: Metaphase
As microtubules find and attach to kinetochores in prometaphase, the centromeres of the chromosomes convene themselves on the metaphase plate or equatorial plane, an imaginary line that is equidistant from the two centrosome poles. This even alignment is due to the counterbalance of the pulling powers generated by the opposing kinetochores, analogous to a tug of war between equally strong people. In certain types of cells, chromosomes do not line up at the metaphase plate and instead move back and forth between the poles randomly, only roughly lining up along the midline.
Because proper chromosome separation requires that every kinetochore be attached to a bundle of microtubules, it is thought that unattached kinetochores generate a signal to prevent premature progression to anaphase without all chromosomes being aligned. The signal creates the mitotic spindle checkpoint.
Main article: Anaphase
When every kinetochore is attached to a cluster of microtubules and the chromosomes have lined up along the metaphase plate, the cell proceeds to anaphase. Two events occur in order:
- The proteins that bind sister chromatids together are cleaved, allowing them to separate. These sister chromatids turned sister chromosomes are pulled apart by shortening kinetochore microtubules and toward the respective centrosomes to which they are attached.
- The nonkinetochore microtubules elongate, pushing the centrosomes (and the set of chromosomes to which they are attached) apart to opposite ends of the cell.
These two stages are sometimes called early and late anaphase. At the end of anaphase, the cell has succeeded in separating identical copies of the genetic material into two distinct populations.
Main article: Telophase
Telophase is a reversal of prophase and prometaphase events. It "cleans up" the aftereffects of mitosis. At telophase, the nonkinetochore microtubules continue to lengthen, elongating the cell even more. Corresponding sister chromosomes attach at opposite ends of the cell. A new nuclear envelope, using fragments of the parent cell's nuclear membrane, forms around each set of separated sister chromosomes. Both sets of chromosomes, now surrounded by new nuclei, unfold back into chromatin.
Cytokinesis, if slated to occur, is usually well under way by this time. In animal cells, a cleavage furrow develops where the metaphase plate used to be, pinching off the separated nuclei. In plant cells, vesicles derived from the Golgi apparatus move along microtubules to the middle of the cell, coalescing into a cell plate that develops into a cell wall, separating the two nuclei. Each daughter cell has a complete copy of the genome of its parent cell. Mitosis is complete.
Errors in mitosis
Although errors in mitosis are rare, the process may go wrong, especially during early cellular divisions in the zygote. Mitotic errors can be especially dangerous to the organism because future offspring from this parent cell will carry the same disorder.
In non-disjunction, a chromosome may fail to separate during anaphase. One daughter cell will receive both sister chromosomes and the other will receive none. This results in the former cell having three chromosomes coding for the same thing (two sisters and a homologous), a condition known as trisomy, and the latter cell having only one chromosome (the homologous chromosome), a condition known as monosomy. These cells are considered aneuploidic cells. Aneuploidy can cause cancer.
Mitosis is a traumatic process. The cell goes through dramatic changes in ultrastructure, its organelles disintegrate and reform in a matter of hours, and chromosomes are jostled constantly by probing microtubules. Occasionally, chromosomes may become damaged. An arm of the chromosome may be broken and the fragment lost, causing deletion. The fragment may incorrectly reattach to another, non-homologous chromosome, causing translocation. It may reattach back to the original chromosome, but in reverse orientation, causing inversion. Or, it may be treated erroneously as a separate chromosome, causing chromosomal duplication. The effect of these genetic abnormalities depend on the specific nature of the error. It may range from no noticeable effect at all to organism death.
Endomitosis is a variant of mitosis without nuclear or cellular division, resulting in cells with many copies of the same chromosome occupying a single nucleus. This process may also be referred to as endoreduplication and the cells as endoploid.
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