Meiosis is a special type of cell division necessary for sexual reproduction. In animals, meiosis produces gametes like sperm and egg cells, while in other organisms like fungi it generates spores. Meiosis begins with one diploid cell containing two copies of each chromosome—one from the organism’s mother and one from its father—and produces four haploid cells containing one copy of each chromosome. Each of the resulting chromosomes in the gamete cells is a unique mixture of maternal and paternal DNA, ensuring that offspring are genetically distinct from either parent. This gives rise to genetic diversity in sexually reproducing populations, which enables them to adapt during the course of evolution.
Before meiosis, the cell’s chromosomes are duplicated by a round of DNA replication. This leaves the maternal and paternal versions of each chromosome, called homologs, composed of two exact copies called sister chromatids and attached at the centromere region. In the beginning of meiosis, the maternal and paternal homologs pair to each other. Then in Prophase 1 they typically exchange parts by homologous recombination, leading to crossovers of DNA from the maternal version of the chromosome to the paternal version and vice versa. Spindle fibers bind to the centromeres of each pair of homologs and arrange the pairs at the spindle equator. Then the fibers pull the recombined homologs to opposite poles of the cell. As the chromosomes move away from the center, the cell divides into two daughter cells, each containing a haploid number of chromosomes composed of two chromatids. After the recombined maternal and paternal homologs have separated into the two daughter cells, a second round of cell division occurs. There meiosis ends as the two sister chromatids making up each homolog are separated and move into one of the four resulting gamete cells. Upon fertilization, for example when a sperm enters an egg cell, two gamete cells produced by meiosis fuse. The gamete from the mother and the gamete from the father each contribute half to the set of chromosomes that make up the new offsping’s genome.
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