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Eukaryote cell seen through a microscope: a long green shape filled with green dots

A eukaryote cell (seen through a microscope) full of chloroplasts

How do eukaryotes divide?

Eukaryote cells generally reproduce themselves using a method called mitosis. When a eukaryote cell senses that there is plenty of food around, it splits into two new cells that together can eat more food. This is how you grow bigger – your body makes new cells. It’s how you get stronger, when your body makes new muscle cells. And even in adults, your cells wear out and need to be replaced all the time. But it’s pretty complicated for eukaryote cells to divide.

What is mitosis?
What are eukaryotes?
Evolution of cells
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Why is it hard for eukaryotes to divide?

They have a lot of DNA molecules, to control all the different parts of a eukaryote cell, like the Golgi bodies and the lysosomes. To make new cells exactly like the old ones, each new cell has to end up with exactly the same DNA as the old cell.

What is DNA?
What is RNA?
More about lysosomes
And about Golgi bodies

How do they manage it?

First the DNA molecules build exact copies of themselves out of proteins inside the nucleus. To keep the copies from getting mixed up, each old DNA molecule stays attached to its copy in the middle, making a lot of X-shaped DNA molecules, where one side of the X is a mirror image of the other side.

Then the cell makes two spindles out of protein – bunches of strings of protein. One string of protein from each spindle attaches to each side of each X-shaped DNA molecule. Then the two spindles move to opposite ends of the cell, each pulling their half of the DNA with them and breaking the X apart. At the same time, the nuclear membrane breaks apart (nobody knows exactly how). When the DNA reaches the ends of the cell, it forms new nuclear membranes around it. Now the cell has two nuclei, exactly the same.

What is the nuclear membrane?

The last step in cell division

Now the cell membrane begins to pinch in half in the middle, being careful to have some mitochondria (if they’re animal cells) or some chloroplasts (if they’re plant cells) on each side of the middle. Finally the two sides separate and make two new smaller cells. That’s how yeast and other one-celled eukaryotes reproduce, and it’s how your body makes new muscle cells or skin cells when it needs them. But it’s not how your body makes new baby people – that involves meiosis.

What are mitochondria?
How about chloroplasts?
What are yeast?
More about cell reproduction

What is Meiosis?
Cell Reproduction

Bibliography and further reading about mitosis:

Parts of a Cell
Chemistry Home