5.12 Sexual Reproduction, Meiosis, and Gametogenesis

Created by: CK-12/Adapted by Christine Miller

Image demonstrates that within a family, the offspring resemble their parents, but are slightly different from both the parents and their siblings.
Figure 5.12.1 Family resemblance.

All in the Family

This family photo (Figure 5.12.1) clearly illustrates an important point: children in a family resemble their parents and each other, but the children never look exactly the same, unless they are identical twins. Each of the daughters in the photo have inherited a unique combination of traits from the parents. In this concept, you will learn how this happens. It all begins with sex — sexual reproduction, that is.

Sexual Reproduction

 is the process by which organisms give rise to offspring. It is one of the defining characteristics of living things. Like many other organisms, human beings reproduce sexually.  involves two parents. As you can see from Figure 5.12.2, in sexual reproduction, parents produce reproductive (sex) cells — called  — that unite to form an offspring. Gametes are  (or ) cells. This means they contain one copy of each chromosome in the nucleus. Gametes are produced by a type of cell division called , which is described in detail below. The process in which two gametes unite is called . The fertilized cell that results is referred to as a . A zygote is a  (or ) cell, which means it contains two copies of each chromosome. Thus, it has twice the number of chromosomes as a gamete.

Image illustrates the human life cycle
Figure 5.12.2 Sexual reproduction involves the production of haploid gametes by meiosis, followed by fertilization and the formation of a diploid zygote. The number of chromosomes in a gamete is represented by the letter N. Why does the zygote have 2N, or twice as many, chromosomes?


The process that produces haploid gametes is called meiosis.  is a type of cell division in which the number of is reduced by half. It occurs only in certain special cells of an organism. During meiosis, separate, and four cells form that have only one chromosome from each pair. The diagram (Figure 5.12.3) gives an overview of meiosis.

Image shows the major events in Meiosis
Figure 5.12.3 Overview of Meiosis. During meiosis, homologous chromosomes separate and go to different daughter cells. This diagram shows just the nuclei of the cells. Notice the exchange of genetic material that occurs prior to the first cell division.


As you can see in the meiosis diagram, two cell divisions occur during the overall process, producing a total of four cells from one parent cell. The two cell divisions are called meiosis I and meiosis II. Meiosis I begins after  during . Meiosis II follows meiosis I without DNA replicating again. Both meiosis I and meiosis II occur in four phases, called prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. You may recognize these four phases from mitosis, the division of the nucleus that takes place during routine cell division of eukaryotic cells.

Meiosis I- Increasing genetic variation

The phases of Meiosis I are:

  1. Prophase I: The nuclear envelope begins to break down, and the chromosomes condense. Centrioles start moving to opposite poles of the cell, and a spindle begins to form. Importantly, homologous chromosomes pair up, which is unique to prophase I. In prophase of mitosis and meiosis II, homologous chromosomes do not form pairs in this way. During prophase I, crossing-over occurs. The significance of crossing-over is discussed below.
  2. Metaphase I: Spindle fibres attach to the paired homologous chromosomes. The paired chromosomes line up along the equator of the cell, randomly aligning in a process called independent alignment.  The significance of independent alignment is discussed below. This occurs only in metaphase I. In metaphase of mitosis and meiosis II, it is sister chromatids that line up along the equator of the cell.
  3. Anaphase I: Spindle fibres shorten, and the chromosomes of each homologous pair start to separate from each other. One chromosome of each pair moves toward one pole of the cell, and the other chromosome moves toward the opposite pole.
  4. Telophase I and Cytokinesis: The spindle breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form. The cytoplasm of the cell divides, and two haploid daughter cells result. The daughter cells each have a random assortment of chromosomes, with one from each homologous pair. Both daughter cells go on to meiosis II.
Illustrates the stages in Meiosis I
Figure 5.12.4 Meiosis I is critical in creating genetic diversity in resulting gametes. Crossing over, in Prophase I and independent alignment in Metaphase I ensure that each resulting gamete is unique.

Meiosis II- Halfing the DNA

The phases of Meiosis II are:

  1. Prophase II: The nuclear envelope breaks down, and the spindle begins to form in each haploid daughter cell from meiosis I. The centrioles also start to separate.
  2. Metaphase II: Spindle fibres line up the sister chromatids of each chromosome along the equator of the cell.
  3. Anaphase II: Sister chromatids separate and move to opposite poles.
  4. Telophase II and Cytokinesis: The spindle breaks down, and new nuclear membranes form. The cytoplasm of each cell divides, and four haploid cells result. Each cell has a unique combination of chromosomes.
Image shows the stages of Meiosis II
Figure 5.12.5 In Meiosis II, dyads are separated to create four unique haploid cells.

Sexual Reproduction and Genetic Variation

“It takes two to tango” might be a euphemism for sexual reproduction. Requiring two individuals to produce offspring, however, is also the main drawback of this way of reproducing, because it requires extra steps — and often a certain amount of luck — to successfully reproduce with a partner. On the other hand, sexual reproduction greatly increases the potential for genetic variation in offspring, which increases the likelihood that the resulting offspring will have genetic advantages. In fact, each offspring produced is almost guaranteed to be genetically unique, differing from both parents and from any other offspring. Sexual reproduction increases genetic variation in a number of ways:

Image shows the process of crossing over as it occurs in Meiosis I
Figure 5.12.6 Crossing over results in exchange of sections of DNA between homologous pairs of chromosomes.
  • When homologous chromosomes pair up during meiosis I, crossing-over can occur.  is the exchange of genetic material between non-sister chromatids of . It results in new combinations of genes on each chromosome. This is called recombination. You can see how it happens in the figure to the right.
  • When cells divide during meiosis, homologous chromosomes are randomly distributed to daughter cells, and different chromosomes segregate independently of each other. This is called . It results in gametes that have unique combinations of chromosomes.  You can see how it happens in Figure 5.12.7.
  • In sexual reproduction, two gametes unite to produce an offspring. But which two of the millions of possible gametes will it be? This is a matter of chance, and it’s obviously another source of genetic variation in offspring.
Image shows how independent alignment increases genetic diversity in gametes.
Figure 5.12.7 Independent alignment greatly increases the genetic diversity among gametes produced.  Depending on how the homologous pairs align (with paternal or maternal DNA on the left or right side) determines which mix of genes will end up in each of the four unique haploid gametes produced.

With all of this recombination of genes, there is a need for a new set of vocabulary.  Remember, that sister chromatids are two identical pieces of DNA connected at a centromere.  Once crossing over has occured, we can no longer call them sister chromatids since they are no longer identical; we term them dyads.  In addition, once crossing over has occurred, the pair of homologous chromosomes can be referred to as tetrads.  

All of these mechanisms — crossing over, independent assortment, and the random union of gametes — work together to result in an amazing range of potential genetic variation. Each human couple, for example, has the potential to produce more than 64 trillion genetically unique children. No wonder we are all different!

Meiosis (updated), Amoeba Sisters, 2017.


At the end of meiosis, four haploid cells have been produced, but the cells are not yet gametes. The cells need to develop before they become mature gametes capable of fertilization. The development of haploid cells into gametes is called gametogenesis. It differs between males and females.

  • A gamete produced by a male is called a , and the process that produces a mature sperm is called . During this process, a sperm cell grows a tail and gains the ability to “swim,” like the human sperm cell shown in Figure 5.12.8.
  • A gamete produced by a female is called an and the process that produces a mature egg is called , during which just one functional egg is produced. The other three haploid cells that result from meiosis are called polar bodies, and they disintegrate. The single egg is a very large cell, as you can see from the human egg also shown in Figure 5.12.8.
Image shows a sperm fertilizing an egg.
Figure 5.12.8 A human sperm is a tiny cell with a tail. A human egg is much larger. Both cells are mature haploid gametes that are capable of fertilization. What process is shown in this photograph?

5.12 Summary

  • In , two parents produce that unite in the process of  to form a single-celled . Gametes are cells with one copy of each of the 23 chromosomes, and the zygote is a cell with two copies of each of the 23 chromosomes.
  • is the type of cell division that produces four haploid daughter cells that may become gametes. Meiosis occurs in two stages, called meiosis I and meiosis II, each of which occurs in four phases (prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase).
  • Meiosis is followed by , the process during which the haploid daughter cells change into mature gametes. Males produce gametes called in a process known as , and females produce gametes called in the process known as .
  • Sexual reproduction produces genetically unique offspring. , , and the random union of gametes work together to result in an amazing range of potential genetic variation.

5.12 Review Questions

  1. Explain how sexual reproduction happens at the cellular level.
  2. Summarize what happens during Meiosis.
  3. Compare and contrast gametogenesis in males and females.
  4. Explain the mechanisms that increase genetic variation in the offspring produced by sexual reproduction.
  5. Why do gametes need to be haploid? What would happen to the chromosome number after fertilization if they were diploid?
  6. Describe one difference between Prophase I of Meiosis and Prophase of Mitosis.
  7. Do all of the chromosomes that you got from your mother go into one of your gametes? Why or why not?

5.12 Explore More

Meiosis: Where the Sex Starts – Crash Course Biology #13, CrashCourse, 2012.

Mitosis vs Meiosis Comparison, Amoeba Sisters, 2018.


Figure 5.12.1

Family portrait by loly galina on Unsplash is used under the Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license).

Figure 5.12.2

Human Life Cycle by Christine Miller is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/) license.

Figure 5.12.3

MajorEventsInMeiosis_variant_int by PatríciaR (internationalization) on Wikimedia Commons is used and adapted by Christine Miller. This image in the public domain. (Original image from NCBI; original vector version by Jakov.)

Figure 5.12.4

Meiosis 1/ Meiosis Stages by Ali Zifan on Wikimedia Commons is used and adapted by Christine Miller under a  CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) license.

Figure 5.12.5

Meiosis 2/ Meiosis Stages by Ali Zifan on Wikimedia Commons is used and adapted by Christine Miller under a  CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) license.

Figure 5.12.6

Crossover/ Figure 17 02 01 by CNX OpenStax on Wikimedia Commons is used under a CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0) license.

Figure 5.12.7

Independent_assortment by Mtian20 on Wikimedia Commons is used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) license.

Figure 5.12.8

sperm fertilizing egg by AndreaLaurel on Flickr is used under a CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/) license.


Amoeba Sisters. (2017, July 11). Meiosis (updated). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzDMG7ke69g&feature=youtu.be

Amoeba Sisters. (2018, May 31). Mitosis vs meiosis comparison. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrKdz93WlVk&feature=youtu.be

CrashCourse, (2012, April 23). Meiosis: Where the sex starts – Crash Course Biology #13. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCLmR9-YY7o&feature=youtu.be

OpenStax CNX. (2016, May 27). Figure 1 Crossover may occur at different locations on the chromosome. In OpenStax, Biology (Section 17.2). http://cnx.org/contents/185cbf87-c72e-48f5-b51e-f14f21b5eabd@10.53.


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Human Biology Copyright © 2020 by Christine Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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