Cell Cycle, Division & Chromosomes

Topic Notes

Additional Support Materials

i.e. animations, quizzes, pictures,  worksheets


The Cell Cycle


Animation of the cell cycle 
(provided by: cells alive)

Cell Cycle&Mitosis tutorial and Qu's
(The Biology Project, University of Arizona)


Cell Division


Animation of Mitosis 
 (provided by: cells alive)

Animationof Mitosis (v. good) 
(prodivded by: thelifewire.com)

Mitosis - labelled diagram  
(provided by: Access Excellence)

Comparison of Mitosis and Meiosis 
(provided by: Access Excellence)

NEW Mitosis & Meiosis interactive 
(provided by: Biology in Motion)


DNA and Chromosomes


Chromosome (picture)  
(provided by: Access Excellence)

Human Chromosomes (picture) 
(provided by: Access Excellence)

Cell Division & Reproduction Quiz 
(provided by: nelsonthornes.com)




The Cell Cycle
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Cells are not static structures, but are created and die. The life of a cell is called the cell cycle and has four phases:


  In different cell types the cell cycle can last from hours to years. For example bacterial cells can divide every 30 minutes under suitable conditions, skin cells divide about every 12 hours on average, liver cells every 2 years.

The mitotic phase can be sub-divided into four phases (prophase, metaphase, anaphase and telophase). Mitosis is strictly nuclear division, and is followed by cytoplasmic division, or cytokinesis, to complete cell division. The growth and synthesis phases are collectively called interphase (i.e. in between cell division). Mitosis results in two “daughter cells”, which are genetically identical to each other, and is used for growth and asexual reproduction.


Cell Division by Mitosis
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Mitosis is a type of cell division that produces genetically identical cells.  During mitosis DNA replicates in the parent cell, which divides into two new cells, each containing an exact copy of the DNA in the parent cell.  The only source of genetic variation in the cells is via mutations.


  • This is when the cell is not dividing, but is carrying out its normal cellular functions.

  • chromatin not visible

  • DNA, histones and centrioles all replicated

  • Replication of cell organelles e.g. mitochondria, occurs in the cytoplasm.


  • chromosomes condense and become visible – this prevents tangling with other chromosomes.

  • Due to DNA replication during interphase, each chromosome consists of two identical sister chromatids connected at the centromere

  • centrioles move to opposite poles of cell

  • nucleolus disappears

  • phase ends with the breakdown of the nuclear membrane


  • spindle fibres (microtubules) connect centrioles to chromosomes

  • chromosomes align along equator of cell and attaches to a spindle fibre by its centromere.


  • centromeres split, allowing chromatids to separate

  • chromatids move towards poles, centromeres first, pulled by kinesin (motor) proteins walking along microtubules (the track)

  • Numerous mitochondria around the spindle provide energy for movement


  • spindle fibres disperse

  • nuclear membranes from around each set of chromatids

  • nucleoli form





  • In animal cells a ring of actin filaments forms round the equator of the cell, and then tightens to form a cleavage furrow, which splits the cell in two.

  • In plant cells vesicles move to the equator, line up and fuse to form two membranes called the cell plate. A new cell wall is laid down between the membranes, which fuses with the existing cell wall.

 Mitosis and Asexual Reproduction
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Asexual reproduction is the production of offspring from a single parent using mitosis. The offspring are therefore genetically identical to each other and to their “parent”- in other words they are clones. Asexual reproduction is very common in nature, and in addition we humans have developed some new, artificial methods. The Latin terms in vivo (“in life”, i.e. in a living organism) and in vitro (“in glass”, i.e. in a test tube) are often used to describe natural and artificial techniques.

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Meiosis is a form of cell division. It starts with DNA replication, like mitosis, but then proceeds with two divisions one immediately after the other. Meiosis therefore results in four daughter cells rather than the two cells formed by mitosis. It differs from mitosis in two important aspects:

You don’t need to know the details of meiosis at this stage (It's covered in module 5).

Meiosis and Sexual Reproduction  [back to top]

Sexual reproduction is the production of offspring from two parent using gametes. The cells of the offspring have two sets of chromosomes (one from each parent), so are diploid.  Sexual reproduction involves two stages:


The Advantages of Sexual Reproduction
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For most of the history of life on Earth, organisms have reproduced only by asexual reproduction. Each individual was a genetic copy (or clone) of its “parent”, and the only variation was due to random genetic mutation. The development of sexual reproduction in the eukaryotes around one billion years ago led to much greater variation and diversity of life. Sexual reproduction is slower and more complex than asexual, but it has the great advantage of introducing genetic variation (due to genetic recombination in meiosis and random fertilisation). This variation allows species to adapt to their environment and so to evolve. This variation is clearly such an advantage that practically all species can reproduce sexually. Some organisms can do both, using sexual reproduction for genetic variety and asexual reproduction to survive harsh times.



DNA and Chromosomes
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The DNA molecule in a single human cell is 99 cm long, so is 10 000 times longer than the cell in which it resides (< 100mm). (Since an adult human has about 1014 cells, all the DNA is one human would stretch about 1014 m, which is a thousand times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.) In order to fit into the cell the DNA is cut into shorter lengths and each length is tightly wrapped up with histone proteins to form a complex called chromatin. During most of the life of a cell the chromatin is dispersed throughout the nucleus and cannot be seen with a light microscope. At various times parts of the chromatin will unwind so that genes on the DNA can be transcribed. This allows the proteins that the cell needs to be made.

Just before cell division the DNA is replicated, and more histone proteins are synthesised, so there is temporarily twice the normal amount of chromatin. Following replication the chromatin then coils up even tighter to form short fat bundles called chromosomes. These are about 100 000 times shorter than fully stretched DNA, and therefore 100 000 times thicker, so are thick enough to be seen under the microscope. Each chromosome is roughly X-shaped because it contains two replicated copies of the DNA. The two arms of the X are therefore identical. They are called chromatids, and are joined at the centromere. (Do not confuse the two chromatids with the two strands of DNA.) The complex folding of DNA into chromosomes is shown below.

micrograph of a single chromosome

Chromatin           DNA + histones at any stage of the cell cycle
Chromosome       compact X-shaped form of chromatin formed (and visible) during mitosis
Chromatid           single arm of an X-shaped chromosome

Homologous Chromosomes
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If a dividing cell is stained with a special fluorescent dye and examined under a microscope during cell division, the individual chromosomes can be distinguished. They can then be photographed and studied. This is a difficult and skilled procedure, and it often helps if the chromosomes are cut out and arranged in order of size.

This display is called a karyotype, and it shows several features:


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Last updated 22/11/2004