Biology » Cell Reproduction » Prokaryotic Cell Division

Binary Fission

Binary Fission

Due to the relative simplicity of the prokaryotes, the cell division process, called binary fission, is a less complicated and much more rapid process than cell division in eukaryotes. The single, circular DNA chromosome of bacteria is not enclosed in a nucleus, but instead occupies a specific location, the nucleoid, within the cell (see the image below from Genomic DNA). Although the DNA of the nucleoid is associated with proteins that aid in packaging the molecule into a compact size, there are no histone proteins and thus no nucleosomes in prokaryotes. The packing proteins of bacteria are, however, related to the cohesin and condensin proteins involved in the chromosome compaction of eukaryotes.

The illustration shows a prokaryotic cell with a single, circular chromosome floating free in the cytoplasm.

Prokaryotes, including bacteria and archaea, have a single, circular chromosome located in a central region called the nucleoid.

The bacterial chromosome is attached to the plasma membrane at about the midpoint of the cell. The starting point of replication, the origin, is close to the binding site of the chromosome to the plasma membrane (see the figure below). Replication of the DNA is bidirectional, moving away from the origin on both strands of the loop simultaneously.

As the new double strands are formed, each origin point moves away from the cell wall attachment toward the opposite ends of the cell. As the cell elongates, the growing membrane aids in the transport of the chromosomes. After the chromosomes have cleared the midpoint of the elongated cell, cytoplasmic separation begins. The formation of a ring composed of repeating units of a protein called FtsZ directs the partition between the nucleoids.

Formation of the FtsZ ring triggers the accumulation of other proteins that work together to recruit new membrane and cell wall materials to the site. A septum is formed between the nucleoids, extending gradually from the periphery toward the center of the cell. When the new cell walls are in place, the daughter cells separate.

This illustration shows the steps of binary fission in prokaryotes. Replication of the single, circular chromosome begins at the origin of replication and continues simultaneously in both directions. As the DNA is replicated, the cell elongates, and FtsZ proteins migrate toward the center of the cell where they form a ring. The FtsZ ring directs the formation of a septum that divides the cell in two once DNA replication is complete.

These images show the steps of binary fission in prokaryotes. (credit: modification of work by “Mcstrother”/Wikimedia Commons)

Evolution Connection: Mitotic Spindle Apparatus

The precise timing and formation of the mitotic spindle is critical to the success of eukaryotic cell division. Prokaryotic cells, on the other hand, do not undergo karyokinesis and therefore have no need for a mitotic spindle. However, the FtsZ protein that plays such a vital role in prokaryotic cytokinesis is structurally and functionally very similar to tubulin, the building block of the microtubules that make up the mitotic spindle fibers that are necessary for eukaryotes.

FtsZ proteins can form filaments, rings, and other three-dimensional structures that resemble the way tubulin forms microtubules, centrioles, and various cytoskeletal components. In addition, both FtsZ and tubulin employ the same energy source, GTP (guanosine triphosphate), to rapidly assemble and disassemble complex structures.

FtsZ and tubulin are homologous structures derived from common evolutionary origins. In this example, FtsZ is the ancestor protein to tubulin (a modern protein). While both proteins are found in extant organisms, tubulin function has evolved and diversified tremendously since evolving from its FtsZ prokaryotic origin. A survey of mitotic assembly components found in present-day unicellular eukaryotes reveals crucial intermediary steps to the complex membrane-enclosed genomes of multicellular eukaryotes (see the table below).

Cell Division Apparatus among Various Organisms
 Structure of genetic materialDivision of nuclear materialSeparation of daughter cells
ProkaryotesThere is no nucleus. The single, circular chromosome exists in a region of cytoplasm called the nucleoid.Occurs through binary fission. As the chromosome is replicated, the two copies move to opposite ends of the cell by an unknown mechanism.FtsZ proteins assemble into a ring that pinches the cell in two.
Some protistsLinear chromosomes exist in the nucleus.Chromosomes attach to the nuclear envelope, which remains intact. The mitotic spindle passes through the envelope and elongates the cell. No centrioles exist.Microfilaments form a cleavage furrow that pinches the cell in two.
Other protistsLinear chromosomes exist in the nucleus.A mitotic spindle forms from the centrioles and passes through the nuclear membrane, which remains intact. Chromosomes attach to the mitotic spindle, which separates the chromosomes and elongates the cell.Microfilaments form a cleavage furrow that pinches the cell in two.
Animal cellsLinear chromosomes exist in the nucleus.A mitotic spindle forms from the centrosomes. The nuclear envelope dissolves. Chromosomes attach to the mitotic spindle, which separates the chromosomes and elongates the cell.Microfilaments form a cleavage furrow that pinches the cell in two.

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