Cell Division

The Role of the Cell Cycle

The cell cycle allows multiicellular organisms to grow and divide and single-celled organisms to reproduce.

Learning Objectives

Explain the role of the cell cycle in carrying out the cell’s essential functions

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • All multicellular organisms use cell division for growth and the maintenance and repair of cells and tissues.
  • Single-celled organisms use cell division as their method of reproduction.
  • Somatic cells divide regularly; all human cells (except for the cells that produce eggs and sperm) are somatic cells.
  • Somatic cells contain two copies of each of their chromosomes (one copy from each parent).
  • The cell cycle has two major phases: interphase and the mitotic phase.
  • During interphase, the cell grows and DNA is replicated; during the mitotic phase, the replicated DNA and cytoplasmic contents are separated and the cell divides.

Key Terms

  • somatic cell: any normal body cell of an organism that is not involved in reproduction; a cell that is not on the germline
  • interphase: the stage in the life cycle of a cell where the cell grows and DNA is replicated
  • mitotic phase: replicated DNA and the cytoplasmic material are divided into two identical cells

Introduction: Cell Division and Reproduction

A human, as well as every sexually-reproducing organism, begins life as a fertilized egg or zygote. Trillions of cell divisions subsequently occur in a controlled manner to produce a complex, multicellular human. In other words, that original single cell is the ancestor of every other cell in the body. Once a being is fully grown, cell reproduction is still necessary to repair or regenerate tissues. For example, new blood and skin cells are constantly being produced. All multicellular organisms use cell division for growth and the maintenance and repair of cells and tissues. Cell division is tightly regulated because the occasional failure of regulation can have life-threatening consequences. Single-celled organisms use cell division as their method of reproduction.

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Cell Division and Growth: A sea urchin begins life as a single cell that (a) divides to form two cells, visible by scanning electron microscopy. After four rounds of cell division, (b) there are 16 cells, as seen in this SEM image. After many rounds of cell division, the individual develops into a complex, multicellular organism, as seen in this (c) mature sea urchin.

While there are a few cells in the body that do not undergo cell division, most somatic cells divide regularly. A somatic cell is a general term for a body cell: all human cells, except for the cells that produce eggs and sperm (which are referred to as germ cells), are somatic cells. Somatic cells contain two copies of each of their chromosomes (one copy received from each parent). Cells in the body replace themselves over the lifetime of a person. For example, the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract must be frequently replaced when constantly “worn off” by the movement of food through the gut. But what triggers a cell to divide and how does it prepare for and complete cell division?

The cell cycle is an ordered series of events involving cell growth and cell division that produces two new daughter cells. Cells on the path to cell division proceed through a series of precisely timed and carefully regulated stages of growth, DNA replication, and division that produces two identical (clone) cells. The cell cycle has two major phases: interphase and the mitotic phase. During interphase, the cell grows and DNA is replicated. During the mitotic phase, the replicated DNA and cytoplasmic contents are separated and the cell divides.

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The Cell Cycle: The cell cycle consists of interphase and the mitotic phase. During interphase, the cell grows and the nuclear DNA is duplicated. Interphase is followed by the mitotic phase. During the mitotic phase, the duplicated chromosomes are segregated and distributed into daughter nuclei. The cytoplasm is usually divided as well, resulting in two daughter cells

Genomic DNA and Chromosomes

The genome of an organism consists of its entire complement of DNA, which encodes the genes that control the organism’s characteristics.

Learning Objectives

Explain the importance of a genome to an organism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A cell ‘s DNA, packaged as a double-stranded DNA molecule, is called its genome.
  • In prokaryotes, the genome is composed of a single, double-stranded DNA molecule in the form of a loop or circle; the region in the cell containing this genetic material is called a nucleoid.
  • In eukaryotes, the genome consists of several double-stranded linear DNA molecules; each species of eukaryotes has a characteristic number of chromosomes in the nuclei of its cells.
  • Matched pairs of chromosomes in a diploid organism are called homologous chromosomes, which are the same length and have specific nucleotide segments called genes in exactly the same location, or locus.
  • Each copy of a homologous pair of chromosomes originates from a different parent, so the genes themselves are not identical.
  • The difference between the DNA sequences in pairs of homologous chromosomes is less than one percent; the sex chromosomes, X and Y, are the single exception to this rule since their genes are different.

Key Terms

  • genome: the cell’s complete genetic information packaged as a double-stranded DNA molecule
  • nucleoid: the irregularly-shaped region within a prokaryote cell where the genetic material is localized
  • gene: a unit of heredity; the functional units of chromosomes that determine specific characteristics by coding for specific proteins
  • chromosome: a structure in the cell nucleus that contains DNA, histone protein, and other structural proteins
  • locus: a fixed position on a chromosome that may be occupied by one or more genes

Genomic DNA

Before discussing the steps a cell must undertake to replicate, a deeper understanding of the structure and function of a cell’s genetic information is necessary. A cell’s DNA, packaged as a double-stranded DNA molecule, is called its genome. In prokaryotes, the genome is composed of a single, double-stranded DNA molecule in the form of a loop or circle. The region in the cell containing this genetic material is called a nucleoid. Some prokaryotes also have smaller loops of DNA called plasmids that are not essential for normal growth. Bacteria can exchange these plasmids with other bacteria, sometimes receiving beneficial new genes that the recipient can add to their chromosomal DNA. Antibiotic resistance is one trait that often spreads through a bacterial colony through plasmid exchange.

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Prokaryotic Genome: Prokaryotes, including bacteria and archaea, have a single, circular chromosome located in a central region called the nucleoid.

In eukaryotes, the genome consists of several double-stranded linear DNA molecules packaged into chromosomes. Each species of eukaryotes has a characteristic number of chromosomes in the nuclei of its cells. Human body cells have 46 chromosomes, while human gametes (sperm or eggs) have 23 chromosomes each. A typical body cell, or somatic cell, contains two matched sets of chromosomes, a configuration known as diploid. The letter n is used to represent a single set of chromosomes; therefore, a diploid organism is designated 2n. Human cells that contain one set of chromosomes are called gametes, or sex cells; these are eggs and sperm, and are designated 1n, or haploid.

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Eukaryotic Genome: There are 23 pairs of homologous chromosomes in a female human somatic cell. The condensed chromosomes are viewed within the nucleus (top), removed from a cell in mitosis and spread out on a slide (right), and artificially arranged according to length (left); an arrangement like this is called a karyotype. In this image, the chromosomes were exposed to fluorescent stains for differentiation of the different chromosomes. A method of staining called “chromosome painting” employs fluorescent dyes that highlight chromosomes in different colors.

Matched pairs of chromosomes in a diploid organism are called homologous (“same knowledge”) chromosomes. Homologous chromosomes are the same length and have specific nucleotide segments called genes in exactly the same location, or locus. Genes, the functional units of chromosomes, determine specific characteristics, or traits, by coding for specific proteins. For example, hair color is a trait that can be blonde, brown, or black.

Each copy of a homologous pair of chromosomes originates from a different parent; therefore, the genes themselves are not identical. The variation of individuals within a species is due to the specific combination of the genes inherited from both parents. Even a slightly altered sequence of nucleotides within a gene can result in an alternative trait. For example, there are three possible gene sequences on the human chromosome that code for blood type: sequence A, sequence B, and sequence O. Because all diploid human cells have two copies of the chromosome that determines blood type, the blood type (the trait) is determined by which two versions of the marker gene are inherited. It is possible to have two copies of the same gene sequence on both homologous chromosomes, with one on each (for example, AA, BB, or OO), or two different sequences, such as AB, AO, or BO.

Minor variations of traits, such as blood type, eye color, and handedness, contribute to the natural variation found within a species. However, if the entire DNA sequence from any pair of human homologous chromosomes is compared, the difference is less than one percent. The sex chromosomes, X and Y, are the single exception to the rule of homologous chromosome uniformity. Other than a small amount of homology that is necessary to accurately produce gametes, the genes found on the X and Y chromosomes are different.

Eukaryotic Chromosomal Structure and Compaction

Chromosomes must coil to pack DNA into the cell during cell division, a process involving 3 levels of compaction.

Learning Objectives

Describe the levels of chromsomal structure and compaction

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • During some stages of the cell cycle, the long strands of DNA are condensed into compact chromosomes to fit in the cell’s nucleus.
  • In the first level of compaction, short stretches of the DNA double helix wrap around a core of eight histone proteins at regular intervals along the entire length of the chromosome.
  • The DNA surrouding the histone core is called a nucleosome; the DNA-histone complex is called chromatin.
  • The second level of compaction occurs as the nucleosomes and the linker DNA between them are coiled into a 30-nm chromatin fiber, which shortens the chromosome so it’s about 50 times shorter than the extended form.
  • After replication, the chromosomes are composed of two linked sister chromatids; when fully compact, the pairs of identically-packed chromosomes are bound to each other by cohesin proteins.
  • The connection between the sister chromatids is closest in a region called the centromere; this region is highly condensed.

Key Terms

  • nucleosome: any of the subunits that repeat in chromatin; a coil of DNA surrounding a histone core
  • histone: any of various simple water-soluble proteins that are rich in the basic amino acids lysine and arginine and are complexed with DNA in the nucleosomes of eukaryotic chromatin
  • chromatin: a complex of DNA, RNA, and proteins within the cell nucleus out of which chromosomes condense during cell division

Eukaryotic Chromosomal Structure and Compaction

If the DNA from all 46 chromosomes in a human cell nucleus was laid out end to end, it would measure approximately two meters. However, the diameter would be only 2 nm. Considering that the size of a typical human cell is about 10 µm (100,000 cells lined up to equal one meter), DNA must be tightly packaged to fit in the cell’s nucleus. At the same time, it must also be readily accessible for the genes to be expressed. During some stages of the cell cycle, the long strands of DNA are condensed into compact chromosomes. There are a number of ways that chromosomes are compacted to fit in the cell’s nucleus and be accessible for gene expression.

In the first level of compaction, short stretches of the DNA double helix wrap around a core of eight histone proteins at regular intervals along the entire length of the chromosome. The DNA-histone complex is called chromatin. The beadlike, histone DNA complex is called a nucleosome. DNA connecting the nucleosomes is called linker DNA. A DNA molecule in this form is about seven times shorter than the double helix without the histones. The beads are about 10 nm in diameter, in contrast with the 2-nm diameter of a DNA double helix. The next level of compaction occurs as the nucleosomes and the linker DNA between them are coiled into a 30-nm chromatin fiber. This coiling further shortens the chromosome so that it is now about 50 times shorter than the extended form. In the third level of packing, a variety of fibrous proteins is used to pack the chromatin. These fibrous proteins also ensure that each chromosome in a non-dividing cell occupies a particular area of the nucleus that does not overlap with that of any other chromosome.

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Levels of DNA Compaction: Double-stranded DNA wraps around histone proteins to form nucleosomes that have the appearance of “beads on a string.” The nucleosomes are coiled into a 30-nm chromatin fiber. When a cell undergoes mitosis, the chromosomes condense even further.

DNA replicates in the S phase of interphase. After replication, the chromosomes are composed of two linked sister chromatids. When fully compact, the pairs of identically-packed chromosomes are bound to each other by cohesin proteins. The connection between the sister chromatids is closest in a region called the centromere. The conjoined sister chromatids, with a diameter of about 1 µm, are visible under a light microscope. The centromeric region is highly condensed and will appear as a constricted area.