Prokaryotic Cell Division

Prokaryotes such as bacteria propagate by binary fission. For unicellular organisms, cell division is the only method to produce new individuals. In both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, the outcome of cell reproduction is a pair of daughter cells that are genetically identical to the parent cell. In unicellular organisms, daughter cells are individuals.

To achieve the outcome of identical daughter cells, some steps are essential. The genomic DNA must be replicated and then allocated into the daughter cells; the cytoplasmic contents must also be divided to give both new cells the machinery to sustain life. In bacterial cells, the genome consists of a single, circular DNA chromosome; therefore, the process of cell division is simplified. Mitosis is unnecessary because there is no nucleus or multiple chromosomes. This type of cell division is called binary fission.

Binary Fission

The cell division process of prokaryotes, called binary fission, is a less complicated and much quicker process than cell division in eukaryotes. Because of the speed of bacterial cell division, populations of bacteria can grow very rapidly. The single, circular DNA chromosome of bacteria is not enclosed in a nucleus, but instead occupies a specific location, the nucleoid, within the cell. As in eukaryotes, the DNA of the nucleoid is associated with proteins that aid in packaging the molecule into a compact size. The packing proteins of bacteria are, however, related to some of the proteins involved in the chromosome compaction of eukaryotes.

The starting point of replication, the origin, is close to the binding site of the chromosome to the plasma membrane (Figure 6.9). Replication of the DNA is bidirectional—moving away from the origin on both strands of the DNA loop simultaneously. As the new double strands are formed, each origin point moves away from the cell-wall attachment toward 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. A septum is formed between the nucleoids from the periphery toward the center of the cell. When the new cell walls are in place, the daughter cells separate.

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Figure 6.9 The binary fission of a bacterium is outlined in five steps. (credit: modification of work by “Mcstrother”/Wikimedia Commons)

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