For the figure of speech, see Meiosis (figure of speech). For the process whereby cell nuclei divide to produce two copies of themselves, see Mitosis. For excessive constriction of the pupils, see Miosis. For the parasitic infestation, see Myiasis. For muscle inflammation, see Myositis.
In meiosis, DNA replication is followed by two rounds of cell division to produce four daughter cells, each with half the number of chromosomes as the original parent cell. The two meiotic divisions are known as Meiosis I and Meiosis II. Before meiosis begins, during S phase of the cell cycle, the DNA of each chromosome is replicated so that it consists of two identical sister chromatids, which remain held together through sister chromatid cohesion. This S-phase can be referred to as "premeiotic S-phase" or "meiotic S-phase". Immediately following DNA replication, meiotic cells enter a prolonged G2-like stage known as meiotic prophase. During this time, homologous chromosomes pair with each other and undergo genetic recombination, a programmed process in which DNA is cut and then repaired, which allows them to exchange some of their genetic information. A subset of recombination events results in crossovers, which create physical links known as chiasmata (singular: chiasma, for the Greek letter Chi (X)) between the homologous chromosomes. In most organisms, these links are essential to direct each pair of homologous chromosomes to segregate away from each other during Meiosis I, resulting in two haploid cells that have half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell. During Meiosis II, the cohesion between sister chromatids is released and they segregate from one another, as during mitosis. In some cases all four of the meiotic products form gametes such as sperm, spores, or pollen. In female animals, three of the four meiotic products are typically eliminated by extrusion into polar bodies, and only one cell develops to produce an ovum.
Because the number of chromosomes is halved during meiosis, gametes can fuse (i.e. fertilization) to form a diploid zygote that contains two copies of each chromosome, one from each parent. Thus, alternating cycles of meiosis and fertilization enable sexual reproduction, with successive generations maintaining the same number of chromosomes. For example, diploid human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes including 1 pair of sex chromosomes (46 total), half of maternal origin and half of paternal origin. Meiosis produces haploid gametes (ova or sperm) that contain one set of 23 chromosomes. When two gametes (an egg and a sperm) fuse, the resulting zygote is once again diploid, with the mother and father each contributing 23 chromosomes. This same pattern, but not the same number of chromosomes, occurs in all organisms that utilize meiosis.
Although the process of meiosis is related to the more general cell division process of mitosis, it differs in two important respects:
shuffles the genes between the two chromosomes in each pair (one received from each parent), producing recombinant chromosomes with unique genetic combinations in every gamete
occurs only if needed to repair DNA damage;
usually occurs between identical sister chromatids and does not result in genetic changes
chromosome number (ploidy)
produces four genetically unique cells, each with half the number of chromosomes as in the parent
produces two genetically identical cells, each with the same number of chromosomes as in the parent
Meiosis begins with a diploid cell, which contains two copies of each chromosome, termed homologs. First, the cell undergoes DNA replication, so each homolog now consists of two identical sister chromatids. Then each set of homologs pair with each other and exchange DNA by homologous recombination leading to physical connections (crossovers) between the homologs. In the first meiotic division, the homologs are segregated to separate daughter cells by the spindle apparatus. The cells then proceed to a second division without an intervening round of DNA replication. The sister chromatids are segregated to separate daughter cells to produce a total of four haploid cells. Female animals employ a slight variation on this pattern and produce one large ovum and two small polar bodies. Because of recombination, an individual chromatid can consist of a new combination of maternal and paternal DNA, resulting in offspring that are genetically distinct from either parent. Furthermore, an individual gamete can include an assortment of maternal, paternal, and recombinant chromatids. This genetic diversity resulting from sexual reproduction contributes to the variation in traits upon which natural selection can act.
Meiosis uses many of the same mechanisms as mitosis, the type of cell division used by eukaryotes to divide one cell into two identical daughter cells. In some plants, fungi, and protists meiosis results in the formation of spores: haploid cells that can divide vegetatively without undergoing fertilization. Some eukaryotes, like bdelloid rotifers, do not have the ability to carry out meiosis and have acquired the ability to reproduce by parthenogenesis.
Meiosis does not occur in archaea or bacteria, which generally reproduce asexually via binary fission. However, a "sexual" process known as horizontal gene transfer involves the transfer of DNA from one bacterium or archaeon to another and recombination of these DNA molecules of different parental origin.