7.1 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 genetically 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 alternation of generations, demonstrated by plants and some algae.
Sexual reproduction requires that diploid organisms produce haploid cells that can fuse during fertilization to form diploid offspring. The process that results in haploid cells is called meiosis. Meiosis is a series of events that arrange and separate chromosomes into daughter cells. During the interphase of meiosis, each chromosome is duplicated. In meiosis, there are two rounds of nuclear division resulting in four nuclei and usually four haploid daughter cells, each with half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell. During meiosis, variation in the daughter nuclei is introduced because of crossover in prophase I and random alignment 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 are two nuclear divisions that produce four daughter nuclei that are genetically different and have one chromosome set rather than the two sets the parent cell had. The main differences between the processes occur in the first division of meiosis. The homologous chromosomes separate into different nuclei during meiosis I causing a reduction of ploidy level. The second division of meiosis is much more similar to a mitotic division.
7.3 Variations in Meiosis
The number, size, shape, and banding pattern of chromosomes make them easily identifiable in a karyogram and allow for the assessment of many chromosomal abnormalities. Disorders in chromosome number, or aneuploidies, are typically lethal to the embryo, although a few trisomic genotypes are viable. Because of X inactivation, aberrations in sex chromosomes typically have milder effects on an individual. Aneuploidies also include instances in which segments of a chromosome are duplicated or deleted. Chromosome structures also may be rearranged, for example by inversion or translocation. Both of these aberrations can result in negative effects on development, or death. Because they force chromosomes to assume contorted pairings during meiosis I, inversions and translocations are often associated with reduced fertility because of the likelihood of nondisjunction.