5.2 Chromosomes and Mitosis

Lesson Objectives

  • Describe chromosomes and their role in mitosis.
  • Outline the phases of mitosis.


Chapter 5.2 workbook pages


  • anaphase
    • third phase of mitosis during which sister chromatids separate and move to opposite poles of the cell
  • centromere
    • region of sister chromatids where they are joined together
  • chromatid
    • one of two identical copies of a chromosome that are joined together at a centromere before a cell divides
  • chromatin
    • grainy material that DNA forms when it is not coiled into chromosomes
  • chromosome
    • coiled structure made of DNA and proteins containing sister chromatids that is the form in which the genetic material of a cell goes through cell division
  • gene
    • unit of DNA on a chromosome that is encoded with the instructions for a single protein
  • homologous chromosomes
    • pair of chromosomes that have the same size and shape and contain the same genes
  • metaphase
    • second phase of mitosis during which chromosomes line up at the equator of the cell
  • prophase
    • first phase of mitosis during which chromatin condense into chromosomes, the nuclear envelope breaks down, centrioles separate, and a spindle begins to form
  • telophase
    • last stage of mitosis during which chromosomes uncoil to form chromatin, the spindle breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form


In eukaryotic cells, the nucleus divides before the cell itself divides. The process in which the nucleus divides is called mitosis. Before mitosis occurs, a cell’s DNA is replicated. This is necessary so that each daughter cell will have a complete copy of the genetic material from the parent cell. How is the replicated DNA sorted and separated so that each daughter cell gets a complete set of the genetic material? To understand how this happens, you need to know more about chromosomes.



Chromosomes are coiled structures made of DNA and proteins. Chromosomes are the form of the genetic material of a cell during cell division. During other phases of the cell cycle, DNA is not coiled into chromosomes. Instead, it exists as a grainy material called chromatin.

The vocabulary of DNA: chromosomes, chromatids, chromatin, transcription, translation, and replication is discussed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9HPNwXd9fk (18:23).

Chromatids and the Centromere

DNA condenses and coils into the familiar X-shaped form of a chromosome, shown in Figure below (under the root word alert), only after it has replicated. (You can watch DNA coiling into a chromosome at the link below.) Because DNA has already replicated, each chromosome actually consists of two identical copies. The two copies are called sister chromatids. They are attached to one another at a region called the centromere.


A remarkable, extraordinary, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvelous, wonderful,sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, phenomenal, outstanding, and momentous animation can be viewed at https://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/dna-packaging.

Ahem, I was just practicing my synonyms.


Chromosome. After DNA replicates, it forms chromosomes like the one shown here.

Chromosomes and Genes

The DNA of a chromosome is encoded with genetic instructions for making proteins. These instructions are organized into units called genes. Most genes contain the instructions for a single protein. There may be hundreds or even thousands of genes on a single chromosome.

Human Chromosomes

Human cells normally have two sets of chromosomes, one set inherited from each parent. There are 23 chromosomes in each set, for a total of 46 chromosomes per cell. Each chromosome in one set is matched by a chromosome of the same type in the other set, so there are actually 23 pairs of chromosomes per cell. Each pair consists of chromosomes of the same size and shape that also contain the same genes. The chromosomes in a pair are known as homologous chromosomes.


Mitosis and Cytokinesis

Watch this video before reading the following text. It will help you understand what you are reading a bit better!

This printable will help you remember everything in the video above:

Amoeba Sisters Video Recap: Mitosis

Go ahead, fill it out and impress your mom/teacher/dad/grandma/dog/someone!

During mitosis, when the nucleus divides, the two chromatids that make up each chromosome separate from each other and move to opposite poles of the cell. This is shown in Figure below. You can watch an animation of the process at the following link:



Mitosis is the phase of the eukaryotic cell cycle that occurs between DNA replication and the formation of two daughter cells. What happens during mitosis?

Every time I read mitosis, I keep thinking of MY TOE SIS. Like my friend with toes that match mine. She’s like my toe sister. MY TOE SIS. We are daughters who have replicated toes. icon_wink Just try to get that out of your mind. I dare you.

Mitosis actually occurs in four phases. The phases are called prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. They are shown in Figure below and described in greater detail in the following sections.


Mitosis (TOES? SIS?) in the Eukaryotic Cell Cycle. Mitosis is the multi-phase process in which the nucleus of a eukaryotic cell divides.


The first and longest phase of mitosis is prophase (it’s the longest cause it’s PRO – get it? ? A pro is going to take his/her time…OK I’ll stop with the corny attempt at jokes now, maybe). During prophase, chromatin condenses into chromosomes, and the nuclear envelope, or membrane, breaks down. In animal cells, the centrioles near the nucleus begin to separate and move to opposite poles of the cell. As the centrioles move, a spindle starts to form between them. The spindle, shown in Figure below, consists of fibers made of microtubules.


Spindle. The spindle starts to form during prophase of mitosis. Kinetochores on the spindle attach to the centromeres of sister chromatids.


During metaphase, spindle fibers attach to the centromere of each pair of sister chromatids (see Figure below). The sister chromatids line up at the equator, or center, of the cell. The spindle fibers ensure that sister chromatids will separate and go to different daughter cells when the cell divides.


Chromosomes, consisting of sister chromatids, line up at the equator of the cell during metaphase.


During anaphase, sister chromatids (ANA is my sister!) separate and the centromeres divide. The sister chromatids are pulled apart by the shortening of the spindle fibers. This is like reeling in a fish by shortening the fishing line (ANA likes to fish!). One sister chromatid moves to one pole of the cell, and the other sister chromatid moves to the opposite pole (that’s when ANA and I were fighting over who caught the biggest fish). At the end of anaphase, each pole of the cell has a complete set of chromosomes.


During telophase, the chromosomes begin to uncoil and form chromatin. This prepares the genetic material for directing the metabolic activities of the new cells. The spindle also breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form.


Cytokinesis is the final stage of cell division in eukaryotes as well as prokaryotes. During cytokinesis, the cytoplasm splits in two and the cell divides. Cytokinesis occurs somewhat differently in plant and animal cells, as shown in Figure below. In animal cells, the plasma membrane of the parent cell pinches inward along the cell’s equator until two daughter cells form. In plant cells, a cell plate forms along the equator of the parent cell. Then, a new plasma membrane and cell wall form along each side of the cell plate.


Cytokinesis is the final stage of eukaryotic cell division. It occurs differently in animal and plant cells.

Pick one of the next two videos to watch and learn about the phases of mitosis:

Phases of Mitosis by Bozeman Science:


Phases of Mitosis by Khan Academy

Play a mitosis stage matching game to review what you’ve learned above:


Lesson Summary

  • Chromosomes are coiled structures made of DNA and proteins. They form after DNA replicates and are the form in which the genetic material goes through cell division. Chromosomes contain genes, which code for proteins.
  • Cell division in eukaryotic cells includes mitosis, in which the nucleus divides, and cytokinesis, in which the cytoplasm divides and daughter cells form.
  • Mitosis occurs in four phases, called prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.

Lesson Review Questions


1. What are chromosomes? When do they form?

2. Identify the chromatids and the centromere of a chromosome.

3. List the phases of mitosis.

4. What happens during prophase of mitosis?

5. During which phase of mitosis do sister chromatids separate?

6. Describe what happens during cytokinesis in animal cells.

Apply Concepts

7. If a cell skipped metaphase during mitosis, how might this affect the two daughter cells?

Think Critically

8. Explain how chromosomes are related to chromatin. Why are chromosomes important for mitosis?

9. Explain the significance of the spindle in mitosis.

Points to Consider

Cell division occurs not only as organisms grow. It also occurs when they reproduce.

  • What role do you think cell division plays when prokaryotes such as bacteria reproduce?
  • How do you think cell division is involved in the reproduction of eukaryotes such as humans?

Previous: Cell Division and the Cell Cycle

Next: Reproduction and Meiosis

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Changes / edits were made to the original ck12 biology text by Guest Hollow. Changes are not endorsed by ck12 in any way.

4 thoughts on “5.2 Chromosomes and Mitosis

  1. Hello, the remarkable, extraordinary, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvelous, wonderful,sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, phenomenal, outstanding, and momentous animation of this chapter was very nice.
    The link, http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/media/DNAi_packaging_vo2-sm.mov told me “page not found” when I clicked it. But when I used their very efficient search engine, the above mentioned animation was there at this link https://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/dna-packaging.

    • Thank you SO much for letting us know about the bad link. Thanks also for finding the correct link and saving me time in posting the replacement. 😉 Have fun with the rest of the chapters, and please don’t hesitate to post a comment if you find something else that isn’t working (or if you just want to comment, lol).

    • Yes, that’s very possible. I just clicked on the link and it takes me to a page where I have to “OK” Adobe Flash. Once I do that, the activity works just fine. If you are trying to access that page via a phone or tablet, you may not be able to get it to work.

      If you feel like you need to review the stages of mitosis, you may just want to draw and label the different phases on a piece of paper. 🙂 Otherwise, you may try to access it via a computer, if you have one available.

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