Prokaryotic Cell Division

Binary Fission

Binary fission is the method by which prokaryotes produce new individuals that are genetically identical to the parent organism.

Learning Objectives

Describe the process of binary fission in prokaryotes

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In bacterial replication, the DNA is attached to the plasma membrane at about the midpoint of the cell.
  • The origin, or starting point of bacterial replication, is close to the binding site of the DNA to the plasma membrane.
  • Replication of the bacterial DNA is bidirectional, which means it moves away from the origin on both strands simultaneously.
  • The formation of the FtsZ ring, a ring composed of repeating units of protein, triggers the accumulation of other proteins that work together to acquire and bring new membrane and cell wall materials to the site.
  • When new cell walls are in place, due to the formation of a septum, the daughter cells separate to form individual cells.

Key Terms

  • mitotic spindle: the apparatus that orchestrates the movement of DNA during mitosis
  • karyokinesis: (mitosis) the first portion of mitotic phase where division of the cell nucleus takes place
  • binary fission: the process whereby a cell divides asexually to produce two daughter cells

Binary Fission

Prokaryotes, such as bacteria, propagate by binary fission. For unicellular organisms, cell division is the only method used to produce new individuals. In both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, the outcome of cell reproduction is a pair of daughter cells that are genetically identical to the parent cell. In unicellular organisms, daughter cells are individuals.

Due to the relative simplicity of the prokaryotes, the cell division process, or binary fission, is a less complicated and much more rapid process than cell division in eukaryotes. The single, circular DNA chromosome of bacteria is not enclosed in a nucleus, but instead occupies a specific location, the nucleoid, within the cell. Although the DNA of the nucleoid is associated with proteins that aid in packaging the molecule into a compact size, there are no histone proteins and thus, no nucleosomes in prokaryotes. The packing proteins of bacteria are, however, related to the cohesin and condensin proteins involved in the chromosome compaction of eukaryotes.

The bacterial chromosome is attached to the plasma membrane at about the midpoint of the cell. The starting point of replication, the origin, is close to the binding site of the chromosome at the plasma membrane. Replication of the DNA is bidirectional, moving away from the origin on both strands of the loop simultaneously. As the new double strands are formed, each origin point moves away from the cell wall attachment toward the opposite ends of the cell. As the cell elongates, the growing membrane aids in the transport of the chromosomes. After the chromosomes have cleared the midpoint of the elongated cell, cytoplasmic separation begins. The formation of a ring composed of repeating units of a protein, FtsZ, directs the partition between the nucleoids. Formation of the FtsZ ring triggers the accumulation of other proteins that work together to recruit new membrane and cell wall materials to the site. A septum is formed between the nucleoids, extending gradually from the periphery toward the center of the cell. When the new cell walls are in place, the daughter cells separate.

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Binary Fission: These images show the steps of binary fission in prokaryotes.

Mitotic Spindle Apparatus

The precise timing and formation of the mitotic spindle is critical to the success of eukaryotic cell division. Prokaryotic cells, on the other hand, do not undergo karyokinesis and, therefore, have no need for a mitotic spindle. However, the FtsZ protein that plays such a vital role in prokaryotic cytokinesis is structurally and functionally very similar to tubulin, the building block of the microtubules that make up the mitotic spindle fibers that are necessary for eukaryotes. FtsZ proteins can form filaments, rings, and other three-dimensional structures that resemble the way tubulin forms microtubules, centrioles, and various cytoskeletal components. In addition, both FtsZ and tubulin employ the same energy source, GTP (guanosine triphosphate), to rapidly assemble and disassemble complex structures.

FtsZ and tubulin are homologous structures derived from common evolutionary origins. In this example, FtsZ is the ancestor protein to tubulin (a modern protein). While both proteins are found in extant organisms, tubulin function has evolved and diversified tremendously since evolving from its FtsZ prokaryotic origin. A survey of mitotic assembly components found in present-day unicellular eukaryotes reveals crucial intermediary steps to the complex membrane-enclosed genomes of multicellular eukaryotes.