Unit 2: Cell Division and Genetics

Chapter 6: Introduction to Reproduction at the Cellular Level

Image A shows two conjoined cells forming a dumbbell shape; the fertilization envelope has been removed so that the mesh-like outer layer can be seen. Image B shows the sea urchin embryo when it has divided into 16 conjoined cells; the overall shape is rounder than in image A. Image C shows a “water melon” sea urchin which appears as a peach-colored ball covered in white protruding spines.

Figure 6.1 A sea urchin begins life as a single cell that (a) divides to form two cells, visible by scanning electron microscopy. After four rounds of cell division, (b) there are 16 cells, as seen in this SEM image. After many rounds of cell division, the individual develops into a complex, multicellular organism, as seen in this (c) mature sea urchin. (credit a: modification of work by Evelyn Spiegel, Louisa Howard; credit b: modification of work by Evelyn Spiegel, Louisa Howard; credit c: modification of work by Marco Busdraghi; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The individual sexually reproducing organism—including humans—begins life as a fertilized egg, or zygote. Trillions of cell divisions subsequently occur in a controlled manner to produce a complex, multicellular human. In other words, that original single cell was the ancestor of every other cell in the body. Once a human individual is fully grown, cell reproduction is still necessary to repair or regenerate tissues. For example, new blood and skin cells are constantly being produced. All multicellular organisms use cell division for growth, and in most cases, the maintenance and repair of cells and tissues. Single-celled organisms use cell division as their method of reproduction.