Prokaryotes have a single loop chromosome, whereas eukaryotes have multiple, linear chromosomes surrounded by a nuclear membrane. Human somatic cells have 46 chromosomes consisting of two sets of 22 homologous chromosomes and a pair of nonhomologous sex chromosomes. This is the 2n, or diploid, state. Human gametes have 23 chromosomes or one complete set of chromosomes. This is the n, or haploid, state. Genes are segments of DNA that code for a specific protein or RNA molecule. An organism’s traits are determined in large part by the genes inherited from each parent, but also by the environment that they experience. Genes are expressed as characteristics of the organism and each characteristic may have different variants called traits that are caused by differences in the DNA sequence for a gene.
The cell cycle is an orderly sequence of events. Cells on the path to cell division proceed through a series of precisely timed and carefully regulated stages. In eukaryotes, the cell cycle consists of a long preparatory period, called interphase. Interphase is divided into G1, S, and G2 phases. Mitosis consists of five stages: prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. Mitosis is usually accompanied by cytokinesis, during which the cytoplasmic components of the daughter cells are separated either by an actin ring (animal cells) or by cell plate formation (plant cells).
Each step of the cell cycle is monitored by internal controls called checkpoints. There are three major checkpoints in the cell cycle: one near the end of G1, a second at the G2–M transition, and the third during metaphase.
Cancer is the result of unchecked cell division caused by a breakdown of the mechanisms regulating the cell cycle. The loss of control begins with a change in the DNA sequence of a gene that codes for one of the regulatory molecules. Faulty instructions lead to a protein that does not function as it should. Any disruption of the monitoring system can allow other mistakes to be passed on to the daughter cells. Each successive cell division will give rise to daughter cells with even more accumulated damage. Eventually, all checkpoints become nonfunctional, and rapidly reproducing cells crowd out normal cells, resulting in tumorous growth.
In both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell division, the genomic DNA is replicated and each copy is allocated into a daughter cell. The cytoplasmic contents are also divided evenly to the new cells. However, there are many differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell division. Bacteria have a single, circular DNA chromosome and no nucleus. Therefore, mitosis is not necessary in bacterial cell division. Bacterial cytokinesis is directed by a ring composed of a protein called FtsZ. Ingrowth of membrane and cell-wall material from the periphery of the cells results in a septum that eventually forms the separate cell walls of the daughter cells.