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Occurrence of meiosis in eukaryotic life cycles

Gametic life cycle.
Zygotic life cycle.
Sporic life cycle.

Meiosis occur in eukaryotic life cycles involving sexual reproduction, comprising of the constant cyclical process of meiosis and fertilization. This takes place alongside normal mitotic cell division. In multicellular organisms, there is an intermediary step between the diploid and haploid transition where the organism grows. The organism will then produce the germ cells that continue in the life cycle. The rest of the cells, called somatic cells, function within the organism and will die with it.

Cycling meiosis and fertilization events produces a series of transitions back and forth between alternating haploid and diploid states. The organism phase of the life cycle can occur either during the diploid state (gametic or diploid life cycle), during the haploid state (zygotic or haploid life cycle), or both (sporic or haplodiploid life cycle, in which there two distinct organism phases, one during the haploid state and the other during the diploid state). In this sense, there are three types of life cycles that utilize sexual reproduction, differentiated by the location of the organisms phase(s).

In the gametic life cycle, of which humans are a part, the species is diploid, grown from a diploid cell called the zygote. The organism's diploid germ-line stem cells undergo meiosis to create haploid gametes (the spermatozoa for males and ova for females), which fertilize to form the zygote. The diploid zygote undergoes repeated cellular division by mitosis to grow into the organism. Mitosis is a related process to meiosis that creates two cells that are genetically identical to the parent cell. The general principle is that mitosis creates somatic cells and meiosis creates germ cells.

In the zygotic life cycle the species is haploid instead, spawned by the proliferation and differentiation of a single haploid cell called the gamete. Two organisms of opposing gender contribute their haploid germ cells to form a diploid zygote. The zygote undergoes meiosis immediately, creating four haploid cells. These cells undergo mitosis to create the organism. Many fungi and many protozoa are members of the zygotic life cycle.

Finally, in the sporic life cycle, the living organism alternates between haploid and diploid states. Consequently, this cycle is also known as the alternation of generations. The diploid organism's germ-line cells undergo meiosis to produce gametes. The gametes proliferate by mitosis, growing into a haploid organism. The haploid organism's germ cells then combine with another haploid organism's cells, creating the zygote. The zygote undergoes repeated mitosis and differentiation to become the diploid organism again. The sporic life cycle can be considered a fusion of the gametic and zygotic life cycles.

[edit] Process

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, producing 46 chromosomes each made up of two 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 is absent in Meiosis

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: (1) 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 (2) physical exchange of homologous chromosomal regions by recombination during prophase I results in new genetic combinations within chromosomes.


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