Meiosis Definition, Diagram, Steps, and Function

Meiosis Steps
Meiosis produces haploid gametes from a diploid cell. DNA replicates once, but the cells divide twice.

In biology, meiosis is the process where a cell replicates DNA once but divides twice, producing four cells that have half the genetic information of the original cell. It is how organisms produce gametes or sex cells, which are eggs in females and sperm in males.

  • In meiosis one cell divides twice, forming four cells.
  • The daughter cells are haploid (n), having half of the chromosome number of the original cell, which is diploid (2n).
  • Meiosis produces sex cells, while mitosis replicates cells from growth and repair. Both begin with DNA replication, but mitosis involves one division step, while meiosis has two divisions.

Steps of Meiosis

Meiosis is a type of cell division that reduces the chromosome number by half (2n to n), leading to the formation of four non-identical daughter cells. It is crucial for sexual reproduction in eukaryotes. Meiosis involves two divisions, so it’s typically broken down into meiosis I and meiosis II. Here’s a breakdown of the stages of meiosis and a look at what happens:

Meiosis I

Cells enter meiosis from interphase, which is much like interphase in mitosis (the cell cycle). When cells commit to meiosis, DNA replicates. In humans, there are 46 chromosomes or 46 pairs of chromatids. Outside of the nucleus, microtubules extends from two centrosomes, each with a pair of centrioles.

  1. Prophase I
    • Description: This is the longest phase of meiosis. Chromosomes condense and become visible. Homologous chromosomes (chromosomes with the same genes but possibly different versions of those genes) come together in pairs in a process called synapsis, forming tetrads. Crossing-over, or genetic recombination, occurs, where sections of chromatids from one chromosome exchange places with sections from its homologous chromosome. This creates genetic diversity. The nuclear envelope begins to dissolve, and spindle fibers form.
  2. Metaphase I
    • Description: Tetrads (pairs of homologous chromosomes) line up at the metaphase plate in the center of the cell. Spindle fibers attach to the centromeres of each homologous chromosome.
  3. Anaphase I
    • Description: Spindle fibers pull the homologous chromosomes apart, moving them to opposite poles of the cell. Unlike mitosis, the sister chromatids remain attached and do not separate.
  4. Telophase I
    • Description: The separated chromosomes reach the opposite poles, and the nuclear envelope starts to reform around them. The cell then undergoes cytokinesis, dividing the cytoplasm and producing two daughter cells, each with half the original chromosome number (haploid).

Meiosis II

Meiosis II is similar to mitosis but involves the division of haploid cells. It consists of the following stages:

  1. Prophase II
    • Description: Chromosomes condense and become visible again. The nuclear envelope dissolves, and spindle fibers begin to form. At this stage, each cell has a haploid number of chromosomes (in humans, 23 chromosomes or 23 pairs of chromatids).
  2. Metaphase II
    • Description: Chromosomes line up at the metaphase plate in the center of the cell. Spindle fibers attach to the centromeres of each chromosome.
  3. Anaphase II
    • Description: Sister chromatids finally separate and are pulled to opposite poles of the cell by the spindle fibers.
  4. Telophase II
    • Description: Chromatids reach the opposite poles, and the nuclear envelope reforms around them. Cytokinesis occurs, resulting in four non-identical haploid daughter cells.

These daughter cells develop into gametes (sperm or egg cells in animals, and pollen or ovules in plants), which are essential for sexual reproduction. The genetic variation introduced during meiosis, particularly during crossing-over in Prophase I, is a key driver of evolutionary processes.

Functions of Meiosis

Meiosis has several critical functions in organisms that reproduce sexually:

  1. Production of Gametes:
    • One of the primary functions of meiosis is producing gametes. In animals, these gametes are the sperm and egg cells. In plants, meiosis leads to the formation of spores, which then develop into gametophytes that produce gametes.
  2. Halving the Chromosome Number:
    • Meiosis ensures that the chromosome number of a species remains constant from one generation to the next. By reducing the chromosome number by half during meiosis, gametes form with a haploid (n) set of chromosomes. When two gametes fuse during fertilization, this restores the diploid (2n) number of chromosomes in the zygote, ensuring genetic stability across generations.
  3. Promotion of Genetic Variation:
    • Meiosis introduces genetic diversity in multiple ways:
      • Crossing-over: During prophase I, homologous chromosomes undergo crossing-over, where sections of chromatids exchange places. This results in new combinations of genes on each chromatid.
      • Independent Assortment: During metaphase I, how the pairs of homologous chromosomes line up at the metaphase plate is random. This means that different combinations of maternal and paternal chromosomes end up in each gamete.
      • Random Fertilization: The fusion of any sperm with any egg during fertilization adds another layer of genetic variability.
  4. Evolutionary Significance:
    • The genetic variation introduced by meiosis provides raw material for natural selection. Organisms with advantageous genetic combinations are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on those beneficial genes to their offspring. Over time, this leads to evolutionary changes in populations.
  5. Repair of DNA Damage:
    • Before entering meiosis, cells undergo DNA repair mechanisms. If there’s damage to the DNA, the processes within meiosis, especially recombination, help correct certain types of damage. This ensures that genetic information passes to the next generation as accurately as possible.
  6. Prevention of Chromosomal Abnormalities:
    • Proper segregation of chromosomes during meiosis ensures that gametes receive the correct number of chromosomes. Errors in this process lead to conditions like Down syndrome, where an individual has an extra chromosome 21.

In summary, meiosis maintains the chromosome number across generations, generates genetic diversity, aids in evolutionary processes, repairs DNA, and prevents chromosomal abnormalities.

Key Differences Between Meiosis and Mitosis

Meiosis and mitosis are both vital processes of cell division, but they serve different purposes and have distinct features. Here’s a summary of the key differences between them:

  1. Purpose:
    • Meiosis: Produces gametes (sperm and egg cells in animals; pollen and ovules in plants) for sexual reproduction.
    • Mitosis: Facilitates growth, repair, and asexual reproduction by producing identical daughter cells.
  2. Number of Divisions:
    • Meiosis: Occurs in two consecutive divisions – Meiosis I and Meiosis II.
    • Mitosis: Involves only one division.
  3. Number of Daughter Cells Produced:
    • Meiosis: Produces four non-identical daughter cells.
    • Mitosis: Produces two identical daughter cells.
  4. Chromosome Number in Daughter Cells:
    • Meiosis: Daughter cells are haploid (n), containing half the number of chromosomes as the parent cell.
    • Mitosis: Daughter cells are diploid (2n), maintaining the same number of chromosomes as the parent cell.
  5. Genetic Composition:
    • Meiosis: Daughter cells are genetically diverse due to crossing-over and independent assortment.
    • Mitosis: Daughter cells are genetically identical to the parent cell.
  6. Stages Involved:
    • Meiosis: There are differences during some steps. For example, Prophase I (with synapsis and crossing-over) and Metaphase I (with tetrads lining up at the metaphase plate) differ from Prophase and Metaphase in mitosis.
    • Mitosis: Does not involve synapsis, crossing-over, or tetrads. Its stages include Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, and Telophase.
  7. Role in Evolution:
    • Meiosis: Introduces genetic variation, which is a driving force for evolution.
    • Mitosis: Does not introduce genetic variation in the same way; its primary role is in growth and repair.
  8. Locations in Organisms:
    • Meiosis: Occurs in the germ cells of the gonads (ovaries and testes in animals).
    • Mitosis: Occurs in somatic (non-reproductive) cells throughout the organism.
  9. Duration:
    • Meiosis: Generally longer than mitosis due to the complexity and additional stages involved.
    • Mitosis: Typically shorter and more frequent in the life cycle of a cell.
  10. Role in Reproduction:
  • Meiosis: Essential for sexual reproduction.
  • Mitosis: Enables asexual reproduction in certain organisms.

Meiosis and mitosis are mechanisms of cell division, they differ fundamentally in their purposes, outcomes, and processes. Meiosis ensures genetic diversity and the continuity of species through sexual reproduction, while mitosis facilitates growth, repair, and maintenance of an organism.


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