Skip Navigation
You are viewing an older version of this Concept. Go to the latest version.

Cell Cycle

The life of a eukaryotic cell can be divided into 4 distinct phases, ending with cell division.

Atoms Practice
Estimated5 minsto complete
Practice Cell Cycle
This indicates how strong in your memory this concept is
Estimated5 minsto complete
Practice Now
Turn In
Cell Cycle

Where do cells come from?

No matter what the cell, all cells come from preexisting cells through the process of cell division. The cell may be the simplest bacterium or a complex muscle, bone, or blood cell. The cell may comprise the whole organism, or be just one cell of trillions.

Cell Division

You consist of a great many cells, but like all other organisms, you started life as a single cell. How did you develop from a single cell into an organism with trillions of cells? The answer is cell division. After cells grow to their maximum size, they divide into two new cells. These new cells are small at first, but they grow quickly and eventually divide and produce more new cells. This process keeps repeating in a continuous cycle.

Cell division is the process in which one cell, called the parent cell, divides to form two new cells, referred to as daughter cells. How this happens depends on whether the cell is prokaryotic or eukaryotic.

Cell division is simpler in prokaryotes than eukaryotes because prokaryotic cells themselves are simpler. Prokaryotic cells have a single circular chromosome, no nucleus, and few other organelles. Eukaryotic cells, in contrast, have multiple chromosomes contained within a nucleus, and many other organelles. All of these cell parts must be duplicated and then separated when the cell divides. A chromosome is a molecule of DNA, and will be the focus of a subsequent concept.

Cell Division in Eukaryotes

Cell division is more complex in eukaryotes than prokaryotes. Prior to dividing, all the DNA in a eukaryotic cell’s multiple chromosomes is replicated. Its organelles are also duplicated. Then, when the cell divides, it occurs in two major steps:

  1. The first step is mitosis, a multi-phase process in which the nucleus of the cell divides. During mitosis, the nuclear membrane breaks down and later reforms. The chromosomes are also sorted and separated to ensure that each daughter cell receives a diploid number (2 sets) of chromosomes. In humans, that number of chromosomes is 46 (23 pairs). Mitosis is described in greater detail in a different section.
  2. The second major step is cytokinesis. As in prokaryotic cells, the cytoplasm must divide. Cytokinesis is the division of the cytoplasm in eukaryotic cells, resulting in two genetically identical daughter cells.

What is a cell's life like?

The eukaryotic cell spends most of its "life" in interphase of the cell cycle, which can be subdivided into the three phases, G1, S and G2. During interphase, the cell does what it is supposed to do. Though cells have many common functions, such as DNA replication, they also have certain specific functions. That is, during the life of a heart cell, the cell would obviously perform certain different activities than a kidney cell or a liver cell.

The Cell Cycle

Cell division is just one of several stages that a cell goes through during its lifetime. The cell cycle is a repeating series of events that include growth, DNA synthesis, and cell division. The cell cycle in prokaryotes is quite simple: the cell grows, its DNA replicates, and the cell divides. In eukaryotes, the cell cycle is more complicated.

The Eukaryotic Cell Cycle

The diagram in Figure below represents the cell cycle of a eukaryotic cell. As you can see, the eukaryotic cell cycle has several phases. The mitotic phase (M) actually includes both mitosis and cytokinesis. This is when the nucleus and then the cytoplasm divide. The other three phases (G1, S, and G2) are generally grouped together as interphase. During interphase, the cell grows, performs routine life processes, and prepares to divide. These phases are discussed below. You can watch a eukaryotic cell going through these phases of the cell cycle at the following link: http://www.cellsalive.com/cell_cycle.htm.

The Eukaryotic Cell Cycle. This diagram represents the cell cycle in eukaryotes. The G1, S, and G2 phases make up interphase (I). The M phase includes mitosis and cytokinesis. After the M phase, two cells result.


Interphase of the eukaryotic cell cycle can be subdivided into the following three phases, which are represented in Figure above:

  • Growth Phase 1 (G1): during this phase, the cell grows rapidly, while performing routine metabolic processes. It also makes proteins needed for DNA replication and copies some of its organelles in preparation for cell division. A cell typically spends most of its life in this phase. This phase is sometimes referred to as Gap 1.
  • Synthesis Phase (S): during this phase, the cell’s DNA is copied in the process of DNA replication.
  • Growth Phase 2 (G2): during this phase, the cell makes final preparations to divide. For example, it makes additional proteins and organelles. This phase is sometimes referred to as Gap 2.
Control of the Cell Cycle

If the cell cycle occurred without regulation, cells might go from one phase to the next before they were ready. What controls the cell cycle? How does the cell know when to grow, synthesize DNA, and divide? The cell cycle is controlled mainly by regulatory proteins. These proteins control the cycle by signaling the cell to either start or delay the next phase of the cycle. They ensure that the cell completes the previous phase before moving on. Regulatory proteins control the cell cycle at key checkpoints, which are shown in Figure below. There are a number of main checkpoints.

  • The G1 checkpoint, just before entry into S phase, makes the key decision of whether the cell should divide.
  • The S checkpoint determines if the DNA has been replicated properly.
  • The mitotic spindle checkpoint occurs at the point in metaphase where all the chromosomes should have aligned at the mitotic plate.

Checkpoints (arrows) in the eukaryotic cell cycle ensure that the cell is ready to proceed before it moves on to the next phase of the cycle.


  • Cell division is part of the life cycle of virtually all cells. Cell division is the process in which one cell divides to form two new cells.
  • Most prokaryotic cells divide by the process of binary fission.
  • In eukaryotes, cell division occurs in two major steps: mitosis and cytokinesis.
  • The cell cycle is a repeating series of events that cells go through. It includes growth, DNA synthesis, and cell division. In eukaryotic cells, there are two growth phases, and cell division includes mitosis.
  • The cell cycle is controlled by regulatory proteins at three key checkpoints in the cycle. The proteins signal the cell to either start or delay the next phase of the cycle.
  • Cancer is a disease that occurs when the cell cycle is no longer regulated. Cancer cells grow rapidly and may form a mass of abnormal cells called a tumor.

Practice I

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Cell division has how many steps? What are they?
  2. How do prokaryotic cells divide? How do eukaryotic cells divide?
  3. Describe the process of binary fission.
  4. Compare the cells before and after the mitotic division.
  5. What is cytokinesis?

Practice II

Practice III

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is interphase?
  2. What occurs during the S-phase?
  3. What is G0?
  4. How long can nerve cells and liver cells remain in G0?
  5. Describe the outcomes of density-dependent inhibition.
  6. What is a growth factor? Give an example.


1. Describe binary fission.

2. What is mitosis?

3. Identify the phases of the eukaryotic cell cycle.

4. What happens during interphase?

5. How might the relationship between cancer and the cell cycle be used in the search for causes of cancer?

6. Cells go through a series of events that include growth, DNA synthesis, and cell division. Why are these events best represented by a cycle diagram?

7. Explain how the cell cycle is regulated.

8. Why is DNA replication essential to the cell cycle?

Notes/Highlights Having trouble? Report an issue.

Color Highlighted Text Notes
Show More

Image Attributions

Explore More

Sign in to explore more, including practice questions and solutions for Cell Cycle.
Please wait...
Please wait...