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Mitosis in Onion Root Tips


Learn the steps in mitosis with our mitosis interactive Java tutorial

Observing Mitosis with Fluorescence Microscopy - Digital imaging with fluorescence microscopy
is becoming a powerful tool to assist scientists in understanding the complex process of mitosis on
both a structural and functional level.

Mitosis is the mechanism that allows the nuclei of cells to split and provide each daughter cell with a
complete set of chromosomes during cellular division. This, coupled with cytokinesis (division of the
cytoplasm), occurs in all multicellular plants and animals to permit growth of the organism. In this part
of the Photo Gallery, we illustrate the various steps in mitosis that occur in onion root tips, which are
relatively easy to capture in all stages. We apologize for the poor quality of the photomicrographs in
this section, but it was built using pre-prepared (stained and mounted) microslides that we obtained
commercially. In the future, we hope to obtain higher quality images.

Resting Cell
A normal resting cell exists in a state called interphase in which the chromatin is undifferentiated in
the heavily-stained nucleus, as illustrated above. Before the cell enters the mitosis phase, it first
undergoes a synthesis or S phase where each chromosome is duplicated and consists of two sister
chromatids joined together by a specific DNA sequence known as a centromere. Centromeres are
crucial to segregation of the daughter chromatids during mitosis. The first phase of mitosis is known
as the prophase, where the nuclear chromatin starts to become organized and condenses into thick
strands that eventually become chromosomes. During prophase, the cytoskeleton (composed of
cytoplasmic microtubules) begins to disassemble and the main component of the mitotic apparatus,
the mitotic spindle begins to form outside the nucleus at opposite ends of the cell. The
photomicrograph below depicts the initial chromosome condensation at the beginning of prophase
(early prophase) when the nucleolus is still intact.

Early Prophase

Late prophase, or prometaphase begins with the disruption of the nuclear envelope, which is broken
down into small membrane vesicles that closely resemble the endoplasmic reticulum and tend to
remain visible around the mitotic spindle. During this period the chromosomes continue to condense
and gradually shorten and thicken until they have completely formed the units that will undergo
mitosis. The nucleolus also disappears during this period. The mitotic spindle microtubules are now
free to enter the nuclear region, and formation of specialized protein complexes called kinetochores
begins on each centromere. These complexes become attached to some of the spindle microtubules,
which are then termed kinetochore microtubules. Other microtubules in the spindle (not attached to
centromeres) are termed polar microtubules and these help form and maintain the spindle structure
along with astral microtubules, which remain outside the spindle.

Late Prophase

The next identifiable phase is called metaphase where the chromosomes, attached to the
kinetochore microtubules, begin to align in one plane (the metaphase plate) halfway between the
spindle poles. The kinetochore microtubules exert tension on the chromosomes and the entire
spindle-chromosome complex is now ready for the next event. The photomicrograph below depicts
onion root tip cell chromosomes in metaphase, ready for separation. The kinetochore and polar
microtubules are clearly visible and radiate out the ends of the cell leaving the chromosomes in the
middle of the complex.


This sets the stage for chromosome separation in the next stage of mitosis: anaphase. Almost
immediately after the metaphase chromosomes are aligned at the metaphase plate, the two halves of
each chromosome are pulled apart by the spindle apparatus and migrate to the opposite spindle
poles. The kinetochore microtubules shorten as the chromosomes are pulled toward the poles, while
the polar microtubules elongate to assist in the separation. The photomicrograph below illustrates the
early stage of anaphase where the chromosomes are just becoming completely separated. The
microtubules are clearly visible in this complex.

Early Anaphase

Anaphase typically is a rapid process that lasts only a few minutes. When the chromosomes have
completely migrated to the spindle poles, the kinetochore microtubules begin to disappear, although
the polar microtubules continue to elongate. This is the junction between late anaphase and early
telophase, the last stage in chromosome division. The photomicrograph below shows the positioning
of the chromosomes in late anaphase. The polar microtubules are a clearly formed network and the
synthesis of a new cell membrane has been initiated in the cytoplasm between the two spindle poles.
Late Anaphase

In telophase, the daughter chromosomes arrive at the spindle poles and are eventually redistributed
into chromatin. The process of cytokinesis, where the cytoplasm is divided by cleavage, also starts
sometime in late anaphase and continues through telophase. After complete separation of the
chromosomes and their extrusion to the spindle poles, the nuclear membrane begins to reform
around each group of chromosomes at the opposite ends of the cell. The nucleoli also reappear in
what will eventually become the two new cell nuclei. The photomicrograph below captures a cell in
late telophase where the new membrane is beginning to divide the cell but the nuclei have not
completely reformed and cytokinesis has not yet finished.


When telophase is complete and the new cell membrane (or wall in the case of the onion root tips) is
being formed, the nuclei have almost matured to the pre-mitotic state. The final steps are completion
of the total formation of a membrane between each of the new daughter cells to yield two separate
new cells. The photomicrograph below illustrates two newly formed cells that have just completed the
process of mitosis.

Daughter Cells
We are continually in search of good samples for photomicrography. If you have any biological
samples that might be acceptable candidates for examination under the microscope, please contact
us using the links below.