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7.7: Mitosis vs. Meiosis and disorders

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  • Mitosis vs. Meiosis

    Both mitosis and meiosis result in eukaryotic cell division. The primary difference between these divisions is the differing goals of each process. The goal of mitosis is to produce two daughter cells that are genetically identical to the parent cell. Mitosis happens when you grow. You want all your new cells to have the same DNA as the previous cells. The goal of meiosis is to produce sperm or eggs, also known as gametes. The resulting gametes are not genetically identical to the parent cell. Gametes are haploid cells, with only half the DNA present in the diploid parent cell. This is necessary so that when a sperm and an egg combine at fertilization, the resulting zygote has the correct amount of DNA—not twice as much as the parents. The zygote then begins to divide through mitosis.

    cell embryo cleavage
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This represents a tiny embryo just beginning to form. Once an egg is fertilized, the resulting single cell must divide many times to develop a fetus. (CC BY-SA 4.0; Nina Sesina via Wikimedia Commons).

    Binary fission, mitosis and meiosis comparison picturesFigure \(\PageIndex{2}\): A comparison between binary fission, mitosis, and meiosis. (CC BY-SA 4.0; domdomegg via

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): comparison of mitosis and meiosis
      Mitosis Meiosis
    Purpose To produce new cells To produce gametes
    Number of Cells Produced 2 4
    Rounds of Cell Division 1 2
    Haploid or Diploid Diploid Haploid
    Are daughter cells identical to parent cells? Yes No
    Are daughter cells identical to each other? Yes No

    Chromosome Disorders

    non disjunction during meiosis I and II
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Nondisjunction in Meiosis: Nondisjunction occurs when homologous chromosomes or sister chromatids fail to separate during meiosis, resulting in an abnormal chromosome number. Nondisjunction may occur during meiosis I or meiosis II. (CC BY 4.0 via OpenStax College).

    Changes in Chromosome Number

    What would happen if an entire chromosome were missing or duplicated? What if a human had only 45 chromosomes? Or 47? This real possibility is usually due to mistakes during meiosis; the chromosomes do not fully separate from each other during sperm or egg formation. Specifically, nondisjunction occurs when homologous chromosomes or sister chromatids fail to separate during meiosis, resulting in an abnormal chromosome number. Nondisjunction may occur during meiosis I or meiosis II Most human abnormal chromosome numbers result in the death of the developing embryo, often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. Occasionally, a zygote with an extra chromosome can become a viable embryo and develop.

    Trisomy is a state where humans have an extra autosome. That is, they have three of a particular chromosome instead of two. For example, trisomy 18 results from an extra chromosome 18, resulting in 47 total chromosomes. To identify the chromosome number (including an abnormal number), a sample of cells is removed from an individual or developing fetus. Metaphase chromosomes are photographed and a karyotype is produced. A karyotype will display any abnormalities in chromosome number or large chromosomal rearrangements. Trisomy 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, 18, and 21 have been identified in humans. Trisomy 16 is the most common trisomy in humans, occurring in more than 1% of pregnancies. This condition, however, usually results in spontaneous miscarriage in the first trimester. The most common trisomy in viable births is Trisomy 21.

    Trisomy 21: Down Syndrome

    One of the most common chromosome abnormalities is Down syndrome, due to nondisjunction of chromosome 21 resulting in an extra complete chromosome 21, or part of chromosome 21 (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\)). Down syndrome is the only autosomal trisomy where an affected individual may survive to adulthood. Individuals with Down syndrome often have some degree of mental retardation, some impairment of physical growth, and a specific facial appearance. With proper assistance, individuals with Down syndrome can become successful, contributing members of society. The incidence of Down syndrome increases with maternal age. The risk of having a child with Down syndrome is significantly higher among women age 35 and older.

    trisomy 2 Karyotype
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Scheme of a genetic mutation, in this case Trisomy 21. (Public Domain; National Human Genome Research Institute via Wikimedia Commons).
    Brushfield eyes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) Karyotype. A karyotype is a picture of a cell's chromosomes. Note the extra chromosome 21. Child with Down syndrome, exhibiting characteristic facial appearance. (Public domain; Erin Ryan via Wikimedia Commons)

    Abnormal Numbers of Sex Chromosomes

    What about when a person has more than two Y chromosomes or more than two X chromosomes? Or a female with only one X chromosome? Sex-chromosome abnormalities may be caused by nondisjunction of one or more sex chromosomes. Many conditions are known in which there are an abnormal number of sex chromosomes. An X chromosome may be missing (XO), or there may be an extra one (XXX or XXY). There may also be an extra Y chromosome (XYY). Any combination of X and Y chromosomes, as long as there is a Y chromosome, will produce a male (up to XXXXY). These individuals can lead relatively normal lives, but they cannot have children. They may also have some degree of mental retardation. These syndromes include Klinefelter’s syndrome, Turner syndrome, and trisomy X.

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\): Summaries of some chromosomal disorders

    Genetic Disorder


    Phenotypic Effects

    Down syndrome

    extra copy (complete or partial) of chromosome 21 (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\))

    developmental delays, distinctive facial appearance, and other abnormalities (Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\))

    Turner’s syndrome

    one X chromosome but no other sex chromosome (XO)

    female with short height and infertility (inability to reproduce)

    Triple X syndrome

    three X chromosomes (XXX)

    female with mild developmental delays and menstrual irregularities

    Klinefelter’s syndrome

    one Y chromosome and two or more X chromosomes (XXY, XXXY)

    male with problems in sexual development and reduced levels of the male hormone testosterone

    Klinefelter's syndrome is caused by the presence of one or more extra copies of the X chromosome in a male's cells. Extra genetic material from the X chromosome interferes with male sexual development, preventing the testicles from functioning normally and reducing the levels of testosterone. Triple X syndrome (trisomy X) results from an extra copy of the X chromosome in each of a female's cells. Females with trisomy X have a lower IQ than their siblings. Turner syndrome results when each of a female's cells has one normal X chromosome and the other sex chromosome is missing or altered. The missing genetic material affects development and causes the characteristic features of the condition, including short stature and infertility.


    • The goal of mitosis is to produce a new cell that is identical to the parent cell.
    • The goal of meiosis is to produce gametes that have half the DNA of the parent cell.
    • When chromosomes do not divide equally among gametes, the damaged gametes produce. This process is called nondisjunction.
    • Trisomy is a state where humans have an extra autosome; they have three of a particular chromosome instead of two.
    • The most common trisomy in viable births is Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome).
    • Gametes may have more or fewer sex chromosomes due to nondisjunction.


    1. Define genetic disorder.
    2. What is nondisjunction? Why may it cause genetic disorders?
    3. Explain why genetic disorders caused by abnormal numbers of chromosomes most often involve the X chromosome.
    4. How is Down syndrome detected in utero?
    5. Compare and contrast genetic disorders and congenital disorders.
    6. Explain why parents that do not have Down syndrome can have a child with Down syndrome.
    7. What is the goal of mitosis? Or meiosis?
    8. How many cells are created from cytokinesis following mitosis? Following meiosis?
    9. Which process, mitosis or meiosis, creates genetically identical cells?
    10. "Gametes are haploid cells." What does this sentence mean?

      Explore More

      Mitosis, meiosis, and sexual reproduction are discussed in the following video.

      Use the resources below to answer the questions that follow.

      Explore More I

      1. What are homologous chromosomes?
      2. How do the location of specific genes compare between homologous chromosomes?
      3. What is the outcome from mitosis?
      4. What is a tetrad? Why are they an important feature of meiosis?
      5. How does meiosis differ between females and males?

      Explore More II

      1. How many daughter cells arise from mitosis? How many daughter cells are produced in meiosis?
      2. How does the attachment of spindle fibers differ between mitosis and meiosis I?
      3. Is anaphase I or anaphase II in meiosis more analogous to anaphase in mitosis? Explain your reasoning.
      4. How many steps are there in mitosis? How many steps are there in meiosis?
      5. How does interphase I of meiosis differ from interphase II of meiosis?