Genes and Proteins
• Proteins do the work of the cell: growth, maintenance,
response to the environment, reproduction, etc.
• Proteins are chains of amino acids. The sequence of
amino acids in each protein is coded in the DNA as a
specific sequence of A, C, G and T bases: a gene.
• Each gene codes for a different protein.
• Key points:
– All cells within an organism have the same genes.
– What makes cells different from each other is that different
genes are turned on and turned off in different cells.
• The DNA must be copied and then divided exactly so
that each cell gets an identical copy.
Cells divide to make more cells. While
all the other organelles can be
randomly separated into the daughter
cells, the chromosomes must be
precisely divided so that each
daughter cell gets exactly the same
Mitosis is normal cell division, which
goes on throughout life in all parts of
the body. Meiosis is the special cell
division that creates the sperm and
eggs, the gametes. We will discuss
meiosis separately.
Mitosis and meiosis occur in
eukaryotes. Prokaryotes use a
different method—”fission” to divide.
Humans have 46 chromosomes, 23
from each parent. Every cell has the
same 46 chromosomes Each species
has a characteristic number of
chromosomes: corn ahs 20, house
flies have 10, chimpanzees have 48.
The essential part of a
chromosome is a single very long
strand of DNA. This DNA contains
all the genetic information for
creating and running the
The DNA is supported and neatly
packaged by proteins bound to it.
At different times, these proteins
cause the DNA to be spread out
like spaghetti in a bowl, or tightly
condensed into the X-shaped
chromosomes we can see in the
Each chromosome has a central
constricted region called a
centromere that serves as an
attachment point for the
machinery of mitosis.
More Chromosomes
Chromosomes exist in 2 different
states, before and after they
replicate their DNA. Before
replication, chromosomes have
one chromatid. After replication,
chromosomes have 2 sister
chromatids, held together at the
centromere. Each chromatid is
one piece of DNA with its
supporting proteins.
In mitosis, the two chromatids of
each chromosome separate, with
each chromatid going into a
daughter cell.
Remember that diploid cells have
two copies of each chromosome,
one from each parent. These
pairs of chromosomes are NOT
attached together.
Cell Cycle
Some cells divide constantly: cells in the embryo,
skin cells, gut lining cells, etc. Other cells divide
rarely or never: only to replace themselves.
Actively dividing cells go through a cycle of events
that results in mitosis. Most of the cycle was called
“interphase” by the microscopists who first studied
cell division. During interphase the cell increases in
size, but the chromosomes are invisible.
The 3 stages of interphase are called G1, S, and G2.
The S phase (“Synthesis”) is the time when the DNA
is replicated, when the chromosome goes from
having one chromatid to having 2 chromatids held
together at the centromere.
G1 (“Gap”) is the period between mitosis and S,
when each chromosome has 1 chromatid. Cells
spend mot of their time in G1: it is the time when the
cell grows and performs its normal function. Control
of cell division occurs in G1: a cell that isn’t destined
to divide stays in G1, while a cell that is to divide
enters the S phase.
G2 is the period between S and mitosis. The
chromosome have 2 chromatids, and the cell is
getting ready to divide.
Machinery of Mitosis
The chromosomes are pulled
apart by the spindle, which is
made of microtubules. The
spindle fibers are attached to each
centromere (which is part of the
chromosome), and anchored on
the other end to a centrosome
(which is the organizing center for
the spindle).
There are 2 centrosomes, one at
each end of the spindle. The
chromosomes are lined up
between the poles of the spindle.
When the spindle fibers contract,
the chromosomes are pulled to
the opposing poles.
The cell then divides to separate
the two poles.
Stages of mitosis: prophase,
metaphase, anaphase, telophase.
In prophase, the cell begins the process
of division.
1. The chromosomes condense. The
proteins attached to the DNA cause the
chromosomes to go from long thin
structures to short fat one, which makes
them easier to pull apart.
2. The nuclear envelope disappears.
The double membrane that surround the
nucleus dissolves into a collection of
small vesicles, freeing the chromosomes
to use the whole cell for division
3. The centrosomes move to opposite
poles. During interphase, the pair of
centrosomes were together just outside
the nucleus. In prophase they separate
and move to opposite ends of the cell.
4. The spindle starts to form, growing
out of the centrosomes towards the
• Metaphase is a short
resting period where the
chromosomes are lined
up on the equator of the
cell, with the centrosomes
at opposite ends and the
spindle fibers attached to
the centromeres.
Everything is aligned for
the rest of the division
process to occur.
• In anaphase, the
centromeres divide. At
this point, each individual
chromosome goes from:
– 1 chromosome with 2
– to:
– 2 chromosomes with one
chromatid each.
• Then the spindle fibers
contract, and the
chromosomes are pulled
to opposite poles,
towards the centrosomes.
• In telophase the cell
actually divides.
• The chromosomes are at
the poles of the spindle.
• The spindle disintegrates
• The nuclear envelope reforms around the two sets
of chromosomes.
• The cytoplasm is divided
into 2 separate cells, the
process of cytokinesis.
The organelles (other than the
chromosomes) get divided up into the
2 daughter cells passively: they go
with whichever cell they find
themselves in.
Plant and animal cells divide the
cytoplasm in different ways.
In plant cells, a new cell wall made of
cellulose forms between the 2 new
nuclei, about where the chromosomes
lined up in metaphase. Cell
membranes form along the surfaces of
this wall. When the new wall joins with
the existing side wall, the 2 cells have
become separate.
In animal cells, a ring of actin fibers
(microfilaments are composed of actin)
forms around the cell equator and
contacts, pinching the cell in half.
Summary of Mitosis
Chromosomes condense
Nuclear envelope disappears
centrosomes move to opposite sides of the cell
Spindle forms and attaches to centromeres on the chromosomes
• Chromosomes lined up on equator of spindle
• centrosomes at opposite ends of cell
• Centromeres divide: each 2-chromatid chromosome becomes
two 1-chromatid chromosomes
• Chromosomes pulled to opposite poles by the spindle
• Chromosomes de-condense
• Nuclear envelope reappears
• Cytokinesis: the cytoplasm is divided into 2 cells
• Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell division. It starts with a
single cell that loses its control mechanisms due to a genetic
mutation. That cell starts dividing without limit, and eventually kills
the host.
• Normal cells are controlled by several factors.
– Normal cells stay in the G1 stage of the cell cycle until they are given a
specific signal to enter the S phase, in which the DNA replicates and the
cell prepares for division. Cancer cells enter the S phase without
waiting for a signal.
– Normal cells are mortal. This means that they can divide about 50
times and then they lose the ability to divide, and eventually die. This
“clock” gets re-set during the formation of the gametes. Cancer cells
escape this process of mortality: they are immortal and can divide
– Normal cells that suffer significant chromosome damage destroy
themselves due to the action of a gene called “p53”. Cancer cells either
lose the p53 gene or ignore its message and fail to kill themselves.
Cancer Progression
There are many different forms of cancer, affecting
different cell types and working in different ways. All
start out with mutations in specific genes called
“oncogenes”. The normal, unmutated versions of the
oncogenes provide the control mechanisms for the
cell. The mutations are caused by radiation, certain
chemicals (carcinogens), and various random events
during DNA replication.
Once a single cell starts growing uncontrollably, it
forms a tumor, a small mass of cells. No further
progress can occur unless the cancerous mass gets
its own blood supply. “Angiogenesis” is the process of
developing a system of small arteries and veins to
supply the tumor. Most tumors don’t reach this stage.
A tumor with a blood supply will grow into a large
mass. Eventually some of the cancer cells will break
loose and move through the blood supply to other
parts of the body, where they start to multiply. This
process is called metastasis. It occurs because the
tumor cells lose the proteins on their surface that hold
them to other cells.
Cancer Treatment
• Two basic treatments: surgery to remove the tumor, and radiation or
chemicals to kill actively dividing cells.
• It is hard to remove all the tumor cells. Tumors often lack sharp
boundaries for easy removal, and metastatic tumors can be very
small and anywhere in the body.
• Radiation and chemotherapy are aimed at killing actively dividing
cells, but killing all dividing cells is lethal: you must make new blood
cells, skin cells, etc. So treatment must be carefully balanced to
avoid killing the patient.
• Chemotherapy also has the problem of natural selection within the
tumor. If any of the tumor cells are resistant to the chemical, they
will survive and multiply. The cancer seems to have disappeared,
but it comes back a few years later in a form that is resistant to
chemotherapy. Using multiple drugs can decrease the risk of
relapse: it’s hard for a cell to develop resistance to several drugs at
the same time.