Eukaryotic Cell Division

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is on eukaryotic cell division. Read on to learn which type of cells are eukaryotic and what the similarities and differences in cell division are for each type, then check your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is a Eukaryotic Cell?

Think about your body. What's it made of? You might think of stuff we get from food, like protein or carbohydrates. You would be absolutely right, but for our body to be alive those molecules need to assemble into the basic building blocks of life, called cells.

Cells in our body have a special part inside of them, called the nucleus. The nucleus is the brain of the cell. It holds and protects the DNA, the master instructions for all living things. Since our cells have a nucleus, we call them eukaryotic, meaning true nucleus. Fungi and plants are also eukaryotic cells. There are other cells without a nucleus, called prokaryotes, but eukaryotes will be the focus of our lesson today.

Eukaryotic cells and prokaryotic cells
eukaryote vs. prokaryote

Our eukaryotic cells aren't static in our bodies. They need to move, make more of themselves and do functional jobs, like making your brain communicate while you read this article. When we are injured, our cells divide to quickly fill the gap in tissue. In eukaryotic cells, this process is called cell division, or mitosis. Let's take a look at how mitosis works in each of the three types of eukaryotic cells.

Cell Division in Animal Cells

Since we're actually animals ourselves, let's look at animal cells first. Mitosis has five steps, or phases, to fully divide a cell. Although scientists have divided these phases into sub-phases, we'll just focus on the main five here. Before mitosis starts, cells duplicate their DNA, which is condensed into chromosomes for the process. Think of it like making a copy of your homework packet for a friend. You would want to organize the pages and probably staple them together before you handed it to them so you know you both have all the worksheets you each need.

After the DNA is duplicated and condensed into chromosomes, the cell goes through prophase. In prophase the nucleus dissolves, leaving the DNA out in the open to be moved to each cell. Small string like objects called spindle fibers start to form. These will be used later to move the DNA.

After prophase comes metaphase. In metaphase, the chromosomes line up in the middle of the cell with help from the spindle fibers. This is to organize the chromosomes before we divide them to each cell. You can remember this since metaphase begins with an 'm' and so does middle.

Next comes anaphase, in which the chromosomes move to opposite sides of the cell. How does this happen? Well, the spindle fibers are attached to tiny parts of the cell called centrioles. Two centrioles make up a centrosome. The centrosome acts like a fisherman, with the spindle fibers as the line and the chromosomes as the fish. The centrosome reels in the fish, or chromosomes, to either side of the cell.

Structure of a centrosome during anaphase

In telophase the chromosomes are now in two sides of the cell and the cell begins to stretch out. A new nucleus forms on either side of the cell, containing the chromosomes. Lastly, in cytokinesis a cleavage furrow, or divide, in the cells starts to form. Proteins squeeze the cell like a wire cutting through dough, leaving two cells where there was once one.

Phases of mitosis
mitosis steps

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