meiosis (mĪŏˈsĭs) [key], process of nuclear division in a living cell by which the number of chromosomes is reduced to half the original number. Meiosis occurs only in the process of gametogenesis, i.e., when the gametes, or sex cells (ovum and sperm), are being formed. Because fertilization consists of the fusion of two separate nuclei, one from each of the sex cells, meiosis is necessary to prevent the doubling of the chromosome number in each successive generation. An ordinary body cell is diploid; i.e., it contains two of each type of chromosome. The members of each pair are known as homologous chromosomes. An ovum or sperm is haploid; i.e., it contains only a single chromosome of each type and, therefore, half the number of chromosomes of the diploid cell. When the two haploid cells fuse, the diploid number is restored, and the plant or animal growing from the fertilized egg (zygote) has the usual diploid number of chromosomes in its cells. Just before meiosis each chromosome replicates to form two identical copies in the form of strands called chromatids joined together at a point called the centromere. In the first stage of meiosis, called the reduction division, the members of each pair of homologous chromosomes lie side by side and crossing over occurs. Each member of the pair then moves away from the other toward opposite ends of the dividing cell, and two nuclei, each with the haploid number of double-stringed chromosomes, are formed. Thus at the beginning of the second meiotic sequence, called the equational division, each cell nucleus contains one chromosome from each homologous pair and each chromosome is of two strands that are identical (except where crossing over has occurred). Then the chromosomes separate into their single strands which move toward opposite ends of the dividing nucleus. The result of meiotic division is four cells, each haploid, with one chromosome of each pair.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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