11.1 The Process of Meiosis
Sexual reproduction requires that diploid organisms produce haploid cells that can fuse during fertilization to form diploid offspring. As with mitosis, DNA replication occurs prior to meiosis during the S-phase of the cell cycle. Meiosis is a series of events that arrange and separate chromosomes and chromatids into daughter cells. During the interphases of meiosis, each chromosome is duplicated. In meiosis, there are two rounds of nuclear division resulting in four nuclei and usually four daughter cells, each with half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell. The first separates homologs, and the second—like mitosis—separates chromatids into individual chromosomes. During meiosis, variation in the daughter nuclei is introduced because of crossover in prophase I and random alignment of tetrads at metaphase I. The cells that are produced by meiosis are genetically unique.
Meiosis and mitosis share similarities, but have distinct outcomes. Mitotic divisions are single nuclear divisions that produce daughter nuclei that are genetically identical and have the same number of chromosome sets as the original cell. Meiotic divisions include two nuclear divisions that produce four daughter nuclei that are genetically different and have one chromosome set instead of the two sets of chromosomes in the parent cell. The main differences between the processes occur in the first division of meiosis, in which homologous chromosomes are paired and exchange non-sister chromatid segments. The homologous chromosomes separate into different nuclei during meiosis I, causing a reduction of ploidy level in the first division. The second division of meiosis is more similar to a mitotic division, except that the daughter cells do not contain identical genomes because of crossover.
11.2 Sexual Reproduction
Nearly all eukaryotes undergo sexual reproduction. The variation introduced into the reproductive cells by meiosis appears to be one of the advantages of sexual reproduction that has made it so successful. Meiosis and fertilization alternate in sexual life cycles. The process of meiosis produces unique reproductive cells called gametes, which have half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell. Fertilization, the fusion of haploid gametes from two individuals, restores the diploid condition. Thus, sexually reproducing organisms alternate between haploid and diploid stages. However, the ways in which reproductive cells are produced and the timing between meiosis and fertilization vary greatly. There are three main categories of life cycles: diploid-dominant, demonstrated by most animals; haploid-dominant, demonstrated by all fungi and some algae; and the alternation of generations, demonstrated by plants and some algae.