Figure 10.1 A sea urchin begins life as a single diploid cell (zygote) that (a) divides through cell division to form two genetically identical daughter cells, visible here through scanning electron microscopy (SEM). 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)
Cell division is critical to life. When a prokaryotic cell divides by mitosis, it has basically reproduced a new organism. Single-celled eukaryotic organisms may also use cell division as their method of reproduction. A multicellular eukaryotic organism, on the other hand, has a more complex reproduction. Sexually reproducing organisms reproduce by cell division called meiosis, which produces sperms and eggs. A human, like every sexually reproducing organism, begins life as a fertilized egg (embryo), or zygote. In our species, billions of cell divisions subsequently must occur in a controlled manner in order to produce a complex, multicellular human comprising trillions of cells. Thus, the original single-celled zygote is literally the ancestor of all cells in the body. However, once a human is fully grown, cell reproduction is still necessary to repair and regenerate tissues, and sometimes to increase our size! In fact, all multicellular organisms use cell division for growth and the maintenance and repair of cells and tissues. Cell division is closely regulated, and the occasional failure of this regulation can have life-threatening consequences.