Cells divide and reproduce in two ways: mitosis and meiosis. Mitosis is a process of cell division that results in two genetically identical daughter cells developing from a single parent cell. Meiosis, on the other hand, is the division of a germ cell involving two fissions of the nucleus and giving rise to four gametes, or sex cells, each possessing half the number of chromosomes of the original cell.

Mitosis is used by single-celled organisms to reproduce; it is also used for the organic growth of tissues, fibers, and membranes. Meiosis is found in sexual reproduction of organisms. The male and female sex cells (i.e., egg and sperm) are the end result of meiosis; they combine to create new, genetically different offspring.

Comparison chart

Meiosis versus Mitosis comparison chart
Type of Reproduction Sexual Asexual
Occurs in Humans, animals, plants, fungi. All organisms.
Genetically Different Identical
Crossing Over Yes, mixing of chromosomes can occur. No, crossing over cannot occur.
Definition A type of cellular reproduction in which the number of chromosomes are reduced by half through the separation of homologous chromosomes, producing two haploid cells. A process of asexual reproduction in which the cell divides in two producing a replica, with an equal number of chromosomes in each resulting diploid cell.
Pairing of Homologs Yes No
Function Genetic diversity through sexual reproduction. Cellular reproduction and general growth and repair of the body.
Number of Divisions 2 1
Number of Daughter Cells produced 4 haploid cells 2 diploid cells
Chromosome Number Reduced by half. Remains the same.
Steps (Meiosis 1) Prophase I, Metaphase I, Anaphase I, Telophase I; (Meiosis 2) Prophase II, Metaphase II, Anaphase II and Telophase II. Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase.
Karyokinesis Occurs in Interphase I. Occurs in Interphase.
Cytokinesis Occurs in Telophase I and in Telophase II. Occurs in Telophase.
Centromeres Split The centromeres do not separate during anaphase I, but during anaphase II. The centromeres split during anaphase.
Creates Sex cells only: female egg cells or male sperm cells. Makes everything other than sex cells.
Discovered by Oscar Hertwig Walther Flemming

Differences in Purpose

Though both types of cell division are found in many animals, plants, and fungi, mitosis is more common than meiosis and has a wider variety of functions. Not only is mitosis responsible for asexual reproduction in single-celled organisms, but it is also what enables cellular growth and repair in multicellular organisms, such as humans. In mitosis, a cell makes an exact clone of itself. This process is what is behind the growth of children into adults, the healing of cuts and bruises, and even the regrowth of skin, limbs, and appendages in animals like geckos and lizards.

Meiosis is a more specific type of cell division (of germ cells, in particular) that results in gametes, either eggs or sperm, that contain half of the chromosomes found in a parent cell. Unlike mitosis with its many functions, meiosis has a narrow but significant purpose: assisting sexual reproduction. It is the process that enables children to be related but still different from their two parents.

Meiosis and Genetic Diversity

Sexual reproduction uses the process of meiosis to increase genetic diversity. Offspring created through asexual reproduction (mitosis) are genetically identical to their parent, but the germ cells created during meiosis are different from their parent cells. Some mutations frequently occur during meiosis. Further, germ cells have only one set of chromosomes, so two germ cells are required to make a complete set of genetic material for the offspring. The offspring is therefore able to inherit genes from both parents and both sets of grandparents.

Genetic diversity makes a population more resilient and adaptable to the environment, which increases chances of survival and evolution for the long term.

Mitosis as a form of reproduction for single-cell organisms originated with life itself, around 3.8 billion years ago. Meiosis is thought to have appeared around 1.4 billion years ago.

Mitosis and Meiosis Stages

Cells spend about 90% of their existence in a stage known as interphase. Because cells function more efficiently and reliably when small, most cells carry out regular metabolic tasks, divide, or die, rather than simply grow larger in the interphase. Cells "prepare" for division by replicating DNA and duplicating protein-based centrioles. When cell division begins, the cells enter into either mitotic or meiotic phases.

In mitosis, the end product is two cells: the original parent cell and a new, genetically identical daughter cell. Meiosis is more complex and goes through additional phases to create four genetically different haploid cells which then have the potential to combine and form a new, genetically diverse diploid offspring.

A diagram showing the differences between meiosis and mitosis. Image from OpenStax College.
A diagram showing the differences between meiosis and mitosis. Image from OpenStax College.

Stages of Mitosis

There are four mitotic phases: prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. Plant cells have an additional phase, preprophase, that occurs before prophase.

Stages of Meiosis

There are two primary meiosis stages in which cell division occurs: meiosis 1 and meiosis 2. Both primary stages have four stages of their own. Meiosis 1 has prophase 1, metaphase 1, anaphase 1, and telophase 1, while meiosis 2 has prophase 2, metaphase 2, anaphase 2, and telophase 2. Cytokinesis plays a role in meiosis, too; however, as in mitosis, it is a separate process from meiosis itself, and cytokinesis shows up at a different point in the division.

Meiosis I vs. Meiosis II

For a more detailed explanation, see Meiosis 1 vs. Meiosis 2.

In meiosis 1, a germ cell divides into two haploid cells (halving the number of chromosomes in the process), and the main focus is on the exchange of similar genetic material (e.g., a hair gene; see also genotype vs phenotype). In meiosis 2, which is quite similar to mitosis, the two diploid cells further divide into four haploid cells.

Stages of Meiosis I

Stages of Meiosis II


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