[Variation and evolution of meiosis]

Genetika. 2003 Apr;39(4):453-73.
[Article in Russian]


Meiosis arose in the evolution of primitive unicellular organisms as a part of sexual process. One type of meiosis, the so-called classical type, predominates in all kingdoms of eukaryotes. Meiosis is controlled by hundreds of genes, both shared with mitosis and specifically meiotic ones. In a wide range of taxa, which in some cases include kingdoms, meiotic genes and features obey Vavilov's law of homologous variation series. Synaptonemal complexes (SCs) temporarily binding homologous chromosomes at prophase I, ensure precise and equal crossing over and interference. SC proteins have 60-80% homology within the class of mammals but differ from the corresponding proteins in fungi and plants. Thus, nonhomologous SC proteins perform similar functions in different taxa. Some recombination enzymes in fungi and insects have common epitopes. The molecular mechanism of recombination is inherited by eukaryotes from prokaryotes and operates in special compartments: SC recombination nodules. Chiasmata, i.e., physical crossovers of nonsister chromatids, are preserved in bivalents until metaphase I due to local cohesion of sister chromatids in the remaining SC fragments. Owing to chiasmata, homologous chromosomes participate in meiosis I in pairs rather than individually, which, along with unipolarity of kinetochores (only in meiosis 1), ensures segregation of homologous chromosomes. The appearance of SC and chiasmata played a key role in the evolution of unicellular organisms since it promoted the development of a progressive type of meiosis. Some lower eukaryotes retain primitive meiosis types. These primitive modes of meiosis also occur in the sex of some insects that is heterozygous for sex chromosomes. I suggest an explanation for these cases. Mutations at meiotic genes impair meiosis; however, due to the preservation of archaic meiotic genes in the genotype, bypass metabolic pathways arise, which provide partial rescue of the traits damaged by mutations. Individual blocks of genetic program of meiotic regulation have probably evolved independently.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chromatids / physiology
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • Crossing Over, Genetic
  • Epitopes
  • Fungal Proteins / chemistry
  • Genes, Plant
  • Genetic Variation
  • Heterozygote
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Kinetochores / physiology
  • Meiosis / physiology*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry
  • Plants / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sex Chromosomes / physiology
  • Synaptonemal Complex / chemistry
  • Synaptonemal Complex / genetics
  • Synaptonemal Complex / metabolism


  • Epitopes
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Plant Proteins