At the beginning of March each year, I get my Y11 classes to draw up a list of topics they want to go through again in revision. Cell Division is always there and it is not difficult to see why. Mitosis doesn’t make any sense unless you understand the concept of homologous pairs of chromosomes and I think you already know that very few iGCSE students do…… (Please see the various posts and videos on the blog on this topic before attempting to understand mitosis)
But there is actually very little to fear in the topic of cell division. If your teacher has told you about the various stages of mitosis that’s fine but you will not be asked to recall them in the exam, at least not if you are studying EdExcel iGCSE. So in this post I am going to try to focus on the key bits of understanding you need rather than bombarding you with unnecessary details.
1 Chromosomes come in pairs
This is the main idea you need before you start. In almost all sexually-reproducing organisms the cells are DIPLOID. This means that however many different sized chromosomes they have, in each cell there will be pairs of chromosomes (called homologous pairs)
So human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 in total)
Remember that the number 46 only applies to humans. Other species have very different numbers of chromosomes in each cell (see table below)
So doves have 8 pairs of chromosomes, dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes, rats 21 pairs of chromosomes. The important point is not how many pairs each organism has but that they all have chromosomes that come in pairs!
The chromosomes any individual possesses is determined at the moment of fertilisation. Sperm and Egg cells (gametes) do not have pairs of chromosomes. They are the only cells in the body that are not diploid. Gametes only have one member of each pair of chromosomes. Cells which only have one member of each pair of chromosomes are called HAPLOID cells.
So every cell in the body is diploid and genetically identical apart from the gametes which are haploid.
2 Organisms that reproduce sexually need two different types of cell division
The fertilised egg (zygote) is a diploid cell. It has pairs of chromosomes that originate one from each parent via the gametes. Every cell division in growth and development of the embryo and foetus until birth, every cell division in growth and repair after birth always produces two genetically identical and diploid cells from the one original cell. This cell division that produces genetically identical diploid cells is called Mitosis.
Gametes (sperm and egg cells) need to be made by a different process. If gametes were diploid then there would be a doubling of the chromosome number every generation and that clearly wouldn’t do. So a different way of dividing the nucleus has evolved. It doesn’t produce genetically identical diploid cells but produces gametes that are haploid and genetically unique. This process is called Meiosis and is only used in the production of gametes.
3 Mitosis is involved in growth, repair, asexual reproduction and cloning
Any process in the body in which the outcome required is the production of genetically identical diploid cells will use mitosis. (It is not too complicated an idea to see that if you don’t need to make gametes and fuse them together in fertilisation, you can just copy cells by mitosis over and over again. All the daughter cells will be exact copies of each other and diploid.
Now I know this post is not going to satisfy everyone. I know some of you will want to read about the cell cycle, prophase, metaphase, centrioles, spindle fibres and the condensation of chromosomes, chromatids being pulled apart etc. etc.) And just for you, I will write a post later today on the details of Mitosis….. But please remember that if you are using the blog to revise for exams, none of this second post is necessary and none of it will be tested in the Edexcel iGCSE paper. If you are doing revision, focus on the key understanding ideas discussed above. And as always, please leave a reply below to ask questions, comment or leave feedback – all comments welcome!
This is my first attempt at making a short summary video as a follow up to lessons. I apologise for the poor sound in places – I hope the content makes sense. Please tweet or leave a reply with any questions.
The science of genetics looks at how inherited characteristics are passed from one generation to the next. The father of genetics was the Moravian monk, Gregor Mendel, who showed with his breeding experiments in peas that individual, discrete “particles” are passed from one generation to the next. We now know that these “particles” are actually small sections of a DNA molecule called genes.
Mendel worked out that there were always two such “particles” in any cell which acted together to determine the feature described. But he knew that gametes (sex cells such as pollen grains and egg cells) only contained one “particle” for each feature. You should understand why this is.
The discrete particles that are passed from generation to generation are genes: these are sections of a DNA molecule and are located on chromosomes. Chromosomes in most organisms are found in pairs within the nucleus of a cell. The word for a cell that contains pairs of homologous chromosomes is a diploid. The gametes do not have pairs of chromosomes: they are haploid cells that contain one member of each pair. This ensures that at fertilisation when two gametes fuse, a diploid zygote is produced.
iGCSE candidates can find genetics a difficult topic and one reason is that there is lots of jargon. Have a look at my definitions for these jargon words and ensure that you understand what they mean. Genetics is not a topic in which rote learning and memorisation are helpful – the very top candidates at iGCSE will understand what is going on, and can then answer all possible questions with ease.
Gene: ” a section of a DNA molecule that codes for a single protein”
Allele: “an alternative version of a gene found at the same gene locus”
Gene locus: “the place on a chromosome where a particular gene is found”
Phenotype: “the appearance of an organism, e.g tall, short, blue eyes etc.”
Genotype: “the combination of alleles at a single gene locus that an organism possesses – e.g TT, Tt”
Homozygous: “a gene locus where the two alleles are identical is said to be homozygous – e.g. TT, tt”
Heterozygous: “a gene locus where the two alleles are different is heterozygous – e.g. Tt”
Dominant allele: “a dominant allele is the one that determines the phenotype in a heterozygous individual”
Recessive allele: ” a recessive allele can only determine the phenotype in a homozygous individual”
Codominance: “two alleles are codominant if they both contribute to the phenotype in a heterozygous individual”