Prokaryotes have a single circular chromosome composed of double-stranded DNA, whereas eukaryotes have multiple, linear chromosomes composed of chromatin, all surrounded by a nuclear membrane. The 46 chromosomes of human somatic cells are composed of 22 pairs of autosomes (matched pairs) and a pair of sex chromosomes, which may or may not be matched. This is the 2nor diploid state. Human gametes have 23 chromosomes representing one complete set of chromosomes; a set of chromosomes is complete with either one of the sex chromosomes. This is the n or haploid state. Genes are segments of DNA that code for a specific protein. An organism’s traits are determined by the genes inherited from each parent. Duplicated chromosomes are composed of two sister chromatids. Chromosomes are compacted using a variety of mechanisms during certain stages of the cell cycle. Several classes of protein are involved in the organization and packing of the chromosomal DNA into a highly condensed structure. The condensing complex compacts chromosomes, and the resulting condensed structure is necessary for chromosomal segregation during mitosis.
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. The mitotic phase begins with karyokinesis (mitosis), which consists of five stages: prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. The final stage of the mitotic phase is 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. Positive regulator molecules allow the cell cycle to advance to the next stage. Negative regulator molecules monitor cellular conditions and can halt the cycle until specific requirements are met.
Cancer is the result of unchecked cell division caused by a breakdown of the mechanisms that regulate 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 a tumor or leukemia (blood cancer).
In both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell division, the genomic DNA is replicated and then each copy is allocated into a daughter cell. In addition, the cytoplasmic contents are divided evenly and distributed to the new cells. However, there are many differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell division. Bacteria have a single, circular DNA chromosome but 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 the formation of a septum that eventually constructs the separate cell walls of the daughter cells.