Early in prophase I, the chromosomes can be seen clearly microscopically. As the nuclear envelope begins to break down, the proteins associated with homologous chromosomes bring the pair close to each other. The tight pairing of the homologous chromosomes is called synapsis. In synapsis, the genes on the chromatids of the homologous chromosomes are precisely aligned with each other. An exchange of chromosome segments between non-sister homologous chromatids occurs and is called crossing over. This process is revealed visually after the exchange as chiasmata (singular = chiasma) (Figure 7.3 ).
As prophase I progresses, the close association between homologous chromosomes begins to break down, and the chromosomes continue to condense, although the homologous chromosomes remain attached to each other at chiasmata. The number of chiasmata varies with the species and the length of the chromosome. At the end of prophase I, the pairs are held together only at chiasmata (Figure 7.3) and are called tetrads because the four sister chromatids of each pair of homologous chromosomes are now visible.
The crossover events are the first source of genetic variation produced by meiosis. A single crossover event between homologous non-sister chromatids leads to a reciprocal exchange of equivalent DNA between a maternal chromosome and a paternal chromosome. Now, when that sister chromatid is moved into a gamete, it will carry some DNA from one parent of the individual and some DNA from the other parent. The recombinant sister chromatid has a combination of maternal and paternal genes that did not exist before the crossover.
The key event in prometaphase I is the attachment of the spindle fiber microtubules to the kinetochore proteins at the centromeres. The microtubules assembled from centrosomes at opposite poles of the cell grow toward the middle of the cell. At the end of prometaphase I, each tetrad is attached to microtubules from both poles, with one homologous chromosome attached at one pole and the other homologous chromosome attached to the other pole. The homologous chromosomes are still held together at chiasmata. In addition, the nuclear membrane has broken down entirely.
During metaphase I, the homologous chromosomes are arranged in the center of the cell with the kinetochores facing opposite poles. The orientation of each pair of homologous chromosomes at the center of the cell is random.
This randomness, called independent assortment, is the physical basis for the generation of the second form of genetic variation in offspring. Consider that the homologous chromosomes of a sexually reproducing organism are originally inherited as two separate sets, one from each parent. Using humans as an example, one set of 23 chromosomes is present in the egg donated by the mother. The father provides the other set of 23 chromosomes in the sperm that fertilizes the egg. In metaphase I, these pairs line up at the midway point between the two poles of the cell. Because there is an equal chance that a microtubule fiber will encounter a maternally or paternally inherited chromosome, the arrangement of the tetrads at the metaphase plate is random. Any maternally inherited chromosome may face either pole. Any paternally inherited chromosome may also face either pole. The orientation of each tetrad is independent of the orientation of the other 22 tetrads.
In each cell that undergoes meiosis, the arrangement of the tetrads is different. The number of variations depends on the number of chromosomes making up a set. There are two possibilities for orientation (for each tetrad); thus, the possible number of alignments equals 2nwhere nis the number of chromosomes per set. Humans have 23 chromosome pairs, which results in over eight million (223) possibilities. This number does not include the variability previously created in the sister chromatids by crossover. Given these two mechanisms, it is highly unlikely that any two haploid cells resulting from meiosis will have the same genetic composition (Figure 7.4).
To summarize the genetic consequences of meiosis I: the maternal and paternal genes are recombined by crossover events occurring on each homologous pair during prophase I; in addition, the random assortment of tetrads at metaphase produces a unique combination of maternal and paternal chromosomes that will make their way into the gametes.
In anaphase I, the spindle fibers pull the linked chromosomes apart. The sister chromatids remain tightly bound together at the centromere. It is the chiasma connections that are broken in anaphase I as the fibers attached to the fused kinetochores pull the homologous chromosomes apart (Figure 7.5).
In telophase I, the separated chromosomes arrive at opposite poles. The remainder of the typical telophase events may or may not occur depending on the species. In some organisms, the chromosomes decondense and nuclear envelopes form around the chromatids in telophase I.
Cytokinesis, the physical separation of the cytoplasmic components into two daughter cells, occurs without reformation of the nuclei in other organisms. In nearly all species, cytokinesis separates the cell contents by either a cleavage furrow (in animals and some fungi), or a cell plate that will ultimately lead to formation of cell walls that separate the two daughter cells (in plants). At each pole, there is just one member of each pair of the homologous chromosomes, so only one full set of the chromosomes is present. This is why the cells are considered haploid—there is only one chromosome set, even though there are duplicate copies of the set because each homolog still consists of two sister chromatids that are still attached to each other. However, although the sister chromatids were once duplicates of the same chromosome, they are no longer identical at this stage because of crossovers.
Review the process of meiosis, observing how chromosomes align and migrate, at this site (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/animal_meiosis2) .