The Amazing Tale of Cell Division (prophase – spindle – poles – prometaphase – metaphase – anaphase)

‘The process of division itself is like a piece of choreography; and, as with all choreography, the different movements are formally named. Stage one is prophase… interesting events can be seen unfolding both inside the nucleus and in the cytoplasm immediately outside, involving the cytoskeleon. Inside the nucleus, the chromosomes, still encircled by the nuclear membrane, begin to condense and so become visible – as doubled structures – under the light microscope. Outside the nucleus, parts of the cytoplasmic skeleton form themselves into two conical structures, like the frames of two wigwams. These two wigwams lie with their wide ends together. The whole structure is then called the spindle – the two pointed ends of which facing away from each other are called poles. The struts of the wigwam frames are made of protein fibres that are able to contract; by contracting, they will later pull the two sets of chromosomes apart…Prophase moves smoothly into prometaphase. In this stage the nuclear membrane breaks down and disappears from view… ‘nuclear envelope breakdown’ has acquired the acronym ‘NEBD’… The nuclear membrane will not be re-formed until chromosome division is complete. The re-formation of the nuclear membrane is the penultimate stage of cell division: the last of all being the division of the cytoplasm. Prometaphase is quickly followed by metaphase. With the nuclear membrane out of the way, the chromomsomes that were inside the nucleus and the spindle that formed outside it can mingle together. In practise, the centromeres that hold each of the doubled chromosomes together join to the protein threads that form the spindle. They do this very neatly: they all line up along the widest part of the spindle, right in the middle, where the two wigwam halves meet. The closest thing you will ever see to a straight line in the living body occurs at this stage of mitosis, where the chromosomes are lined up abreast across the central plane of the spindle. After metaphase comes the most dramatic sequence of all: anaphase…the centromeres are severed and the two chromatids in each pair are yanked apart from each other. This yanking is both a pull and a push…the net effect of this push-me-pull-you is that one complete set of chromatids finshes up at each pole, each a perfect replica of the other…Anaphase begins suddenly and lasts for only a few minutes. Now that we have two complete sets of chromosomes, it is just a question of restoring order. This restorative phase is called telophase, from the Greek ‘telos’, meaning end.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Everything Begins with One: Cell Division

Everything begins with one. Then division - multiplication -

formal dance created for exposed bones of creativity, orderly

execution; like courtly love, necessarily contained excitement,

controlled exposion. From the guddle of nothing, called

chemicals must be marshalled exactly, quite unselfishly;

co-operation is paramount - to make the anus is as holy

as eye or hand, as satisfactory to the cell who has dreamed

of this honour from before the start of time, this realisation.

Under the light microscope, chromosomes are partnering -

condensing into visibility, measured presence; as outside

nuclear membrane, cytoplasmic skeleton – (not the baddy

from a sci-fi horror film) - building wigwams, setting up

camp - end to end. Until even the cell has poles, explorers

smaller than dust might reach; spindles no witch must find,

for spinning the actualities of life - breathing model plotted

from unrolled map. Prophase- prometaphase - nuclear envelope

breakdown – ‘NEBD’ as a poet never wrote - suspended broken

until the end. Metaphase - chromosomes lined up abreast across

the spindle’s central plane, like dancers for Strip-the Willow,

then loosening their hands, parting, waltzing, back and forth;

until each set ends up at one end – so immaculately mirrored,

and order is restored. Telophase, fanning themselves, rosy

from such a frantic dance - all steps remembered - known

without rehearsal, practice, diagram. And the caller, silent.

‘In my systematic explorations through the realms of microscopic anatomy, there came the turn of the nervous system, that masterpiece of life.’ Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Scientist, Recollections of my Life, trans, American Philosophical Society, 1937

‘…the human body is a clock, but an immense one and constructed with so much artifiice and skill that if the wheel which turns the second hand should stop, then the minute-hand would still turn and continue on its way.’ Julien de La Mettrie, The Man Machine

Ding-Dong! Clock so small a word -

limiting in simplicity for such a work.

Tick-Tock! A metaphor with physicality;

literally, audibly, we have a metronome.

Bing-Bong! Even Big Ben will not fit inside

the concept, never mind silver miles of DNA.

Stop! The silent pump, stilled blood currents,

are just dying metaphors for heart - and love.

The Polar Body

‘The Polar body - After meiosis, virtually all the cytoplasm finishes up in one daughter cell while the other daughter contains virually no cytoplasm…The second daughter is just a little ball of surplus chromosomes, with a membrane, known as the ‘polar body’: a ping-pong ball against a football. The same thing happens in the second meiotic division: one huge daughter is produced weighed down with well-packed cytoplasm, plus another miserable polar body... in most species that have been looked at, the first polar body does not divide further. It simply sulks around and eventually gets lost.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Ugly sister, ghostly twin - no wonder she sulks -

deformed dwarf daughter, unemployed, infertile.

Her very name cold - with none of the bear’s blinding

light; nothing of his disappearing, angry white poetry.


‘But you have received only one of several million possible instruction manuals your parents could have put together. The chances they ended up with you are too remote to grasp. If your parents kept on having children, they’d have to visit the maternity hospital another million billion times to stand a chance of producing another child with your genes. It never happens. Genetically speaking you are a new invention. But there's another dimension to your uniqueness. Every experience you have had in your lifetime has made an impact on who you are seeing in the mirror right now. The direction you faced in the womb, your experiences at school, even how well you slept last night. They all make you unique. Your individuality does not come solely from the combination of your genes. But your genes play such a big part in your life that it is interesting to know more about them. To begin to answer the question, ‘Who Am I?’ you’d better have a closer look at mum and dad…’ Gene Stories, BBC Science, 2003

My shine was there

Unique in the Universe, I am the product of stars;

my shine was there at the first dawn of the world,

seeded in darkness like the silver eggs of stars,

liquid mercury pressurised into nothing visible,

like the black hole of an unborn mind - alone

as art accomplished from supreme connection

with the rest of life, her comings and goings,

plots, conspiracies, and dramas - her dances

and pilots, series and specials; each sample,

character, unique, however similar - family

ghosts in face and eyes, printed and overprinted -

stamped; life a vivid conversationalist who never

repeats, using only the same alphabet, words.

Everything she says is wonderful - is a poem.

I am never to be repeated

I am never to be repeated, have never been spoken

before in the entire history of everything - up there

among the stars my name was written - from dust

I came with the print of life on the skin of my back

and the Word still whispering from my forming lips.

Encyclopaedias of people, animals, plants - then me,

here, in what I can only know as now; original, pristine

from the same clay, an experiment never to be repeated,

where Evolution keeps, adapts, discards according to her art;

mixing new with old tools - her only motive, creativity, love.

‘For those of us who resolutely refused to play Mozart or Linguaphone Italiano down a tummy funnel to our unborn babies on the grounds that it was silly and having a Spacehopper stuffed up your jumper is bad enough, victory is sweet. And the guilt, that my offspring would instead possess only a lifelong affinity to the theme tune of Neighbours or This Morning in its glory days, finally assuaged. Harvard research demonstrates babies have no long term memory – even at six months they can only remember 24 hours. While they come to recognise parents through visual contact – you won’t be mistaken for say, a Fimble, or a squeaky carrot - they learn little else, and therefore those ghastly overkeen parents who try to ‘teach’ babies are wasting their time. Hurrah! They’ll be saying next you don’t need to buy a toddler cookbook and spend ten hours a day making pizza faces.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper

When I became a mother I understood life’s highest arts

When I became a mother, I understood

life’s highest arts - creation, love.

I was instrument, wire, apparatus -

host creator; means of the secret pattern

fulfilling skin and bone ghosts

in the incubating bowl of me.

Love metamorphosed to light;

in turn, light becoming blood -

this was the magic.

I was porous;

pores glittering like furthest stars -

when I cried there was the sea,

something of raindrops in my brine;

my skin smelling of turned earth -

the very physical spirit of the Universe

had come to reside, royally, for a time,

finding me like a water diviner,

making me holy in body -

telling me her making secret,

conjuring being with the tool of myself.

And love was the energy - 

all I had to do was be there;

I might as well have been a flower -

bread of my blood breaking,

wine of my light sharing

skin and bone cradle.

How love has come to walk, smile,

wearing the clothes of you,

mask of your shining features,

as salt glitters dry from liquid sea -

you are love’s signature

and flesh.

Are we the dream

Are we the dream that came to be -

realised in skin and bone;

from dust of stars.

Life’s flower

from the same stem,

bearing Creation’s prints -

animals, plants,

fish, birds,

growing from the same root;

life’s seed hearing the whisper

of the Word, as her future green

children hear the breath of spring.

Are we the dream that came to be -

developing, selecting, until love

was the heart’s red fuel, and children

our passion. Now like God the Father.


‘To know the brain, we said, is equivalent to ascertaining the material course of thought and will, to discovering the intimate history of life in its perpetual duel with external forces; a history summarized, and in a way engraved in the defensive neuronal coordinations of the reflex, of instinct, and of the association of ideas.’ Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Scientist, Recollections of my Life, trans, American Philosophical Society, 1937

‘One part called gyrus fornicatus/ and others called hippocampus,/ uncus, amygdale. It is an injustice/ that only neuro-doctors/ get to say these words/ and visit these places, map them, decode them.’ Thomas Lux, the Limbic System

‘To posess 15,000 million neurons at the end of three months’ gestastional activity means growing them at a rate of 2,000 a second.’ Anthony Smith, The Mind, Hodder & Stoughton, 1984

‘…Aaron Lerner,/ awash in kilos of bovine pineals,/ extracted melatonin, N-acetyl-/a5-methoxytryptamine, a mine/ of a name…But our pineal, light/ insensitive, just pours out/ melatonin all the time, more/ in the dark so in diurnal rhyme,/ seasons timed in chemical levels…So not/ the seat of the soul, but still/ a gland to reckon with, a gland/ to tell time.’ Ronald Hoffman, What We Have Learned about the Pineal

‘to count the neural connections/ in the human brain, one per second,/ would take thirty-two million years./…that jungle, lush and interwoven,/ a brief protected habitat/ that writes the rules for its survival/ in a language I can’t read, but must believe.’ Alison Hawthorne Deming, Essays in Intelligence: Five

‘Genetics/ may explain shape, size and posture, but not why one physique should be gifted to cogitate about cogitation,/ divorcing form from matter, and fated to co-habit on uneasy terms with its Image…’ WH Auden, 1907-1973, Unpredictable but Providential

‘The bizarre fact is that the brains of von Bulow, Mozart and Aitken were inherited from a long line of hunter-gatherers. Why on earth, or even how on earth, did a brain system evolve that could remember symphonies or perform advanced mental arthitmetic when its Palaeolithic requirements were assuredly less demanding? And why as the second major conundrum, did the process stop at least 100,000 years ago? Only since then, via population increase, larger and more settled communities, division of labour and a subjugation of nature, has the brain of man begun to realize its potential. Yet it is a prehistoric brain, there being no detectable difference (so far as can be judged by fossils) between then and now, theirs and ours, extremely primitive and very modern man.’ Antony Smith, The Mind, 1984, Hodder & Stoughton

Brain Genes

Genome flower, hued unlikely, unassuming pinkish grey;

no startling blood reds, alchemised from transparent sea -

centuries of painting to some bright unknown aesthetic;

dull functional colour for organ unseen, though dazzling

through the eyes, her sizzling electrical nature, still secrecy

under bone hood, pumpkin sockets. Creation’s instrument -

her work, symbolic and actual art - her pride, consummation

of flesh, stars, love. 10 billion nerve cells cluster this galaxy,

life’s shimmering net thrown over darkness - her crackle

among particular space - sprouting cerebral hemispheres,

thalamus, hypothalamus, spectacular skimming cortex;

home of something elusive, yet present with such force

we are known in a room unseen, can feel a stare through

penetrated skull backwards - where the cerebellum adds

to dark Latin poetry, muscular control; medulla oblongata,

understanding the same wave rhythm still, how many beats

allotted to the organic metronome snatching moments

of yawning time with a thumping red fist you can hear

in your own connected ears, booming through darkness,

vibrating the furthest mother-star - trembling the socket.

Jumping evolutionary hurdles ten at a time - 2000 neurons

sparked a second; organic explosion like a flower snapping

open at first light, gulping sun; this morning the starry mesh

is sparkling – look - there in the tiny sparks rushing, prickle

of lights, is happiness written; when you approach, we touch,

lights surge, chasing like electrical laughter, blooming a star-

map which will recognise you now unto our deaths; command

arms to hold you, hands to intertwine. What organ is this, able

to demand such slavery from its own mastery of life, adaptation

of a spectacular kind - that would shut its shining systems down

for you; against any rules of deduction for survival. Overriden

by original programme principle, risen from darkness, of love.

‘To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances…could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree…Yet… if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.’ Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859

‘The eye-ball is a little camera. Its smallness is part of it perfection. A spheroid camera…Light which will enter will traverse a lens planced in the right position there. Will traverse; all this making of the eye which will see in the light is carried out in the dark. It is a preparing in darkness for use in light…’ Sir Charles Sherrington, Physiologist,  Man and His Nature, second edition, Cambridge University Press, 1951

‘After a long time of light, there began to be eyes, and light began/ looking with itself. At the exact moment of death the pupils open full/ width….The human eye, a sphere of waters and tissues, absorbs an energy that/  has come from ninety-three million miles from another sphere, the sun./ The eye may be said to be the sun in other form……we have always known the eye to be unsleeping, and that all men/ are lidless Visionaries through the night…’ Ronald Johnson, Beam 4


‘Of course/ you’re tired. Every atom in you/ has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes/ non stop from mitosis to now./ Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance/ inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.’ Albert Goldbarth, The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

‘…but the world is more than such a dance;/ a spiraling in to the point of origin/ a spiralling out in the form of a/  wet leaf, a blue crab, or a green house.’ Arthur Sze, the Leaves of a Dream Are the Leaves of an Onion

I am a dance

I am a dance. Of genes, molecules,

shifting chemicals - spiral patterns;

perpetual, riotous, harmonious,

discordant or joining, parting -

hand in hand; jigs, polkas -

Eightsome Reels, Dashing

White Sergeant in alignment

of chromosomes in mitosis –

dancing visibly from conception -

already in time with earlier music

you can’t put a funnel to,

among leaves and stars –

original music heard

by everything that is;

was, will be - waltzing slowly

on until life’s irresistible tune

ends in death’s temporary silence;

motionless skin, heart, hand, bone

cast off - blood siphoned

for recycling; but resting

with acceptance, grace -

like embroidered cloaks,

dinner jackets, ballgowns,

best frocks, dancing shoes;

lastly, sadly, the sparkling

jewels of star-light eyes -

but poised - musical molecules

already twitch in decomposition.

There is a dance at the heart of life

There is a dance at the heart of life;

choreographed, scripted, universal -

intricate beyond measure, rehearsed

for four billion years - creating from

original music, everything that lives -

organic notes in harmonies called leaf,

hand; known as flower, frogs, glassy

composition of the eye - and further

incomparable movements, called tiger

and lily, bright crescendo of swallows;

bird contralto settling early evening

in her darkening melody of feathers.


The sequenced switching of genes,

even after mapping of the Genome,

is still mysterious - who calls the tune,

conducts the music; dares choreograph

this sparkling dance of forming life.

What note sounds as first step hears.


Life is our blind conductor -

energising notes, instruments;

but score, notation, composed

before, are written somewhere

in the dark empty concert hall.

‘Sad news for dodgy dancers: there’s no point taking lessons or practising slick moves at home, because disco divas are born, not made, claim Israeli scientists. Their study of 84 student and professional dancers has found they have an unusual variation in two genes involved in transmitting data between nerve cells. People with these Gene Kelly genes have higher levels of serotonin, a brain transmitter, which makes them more sociable, spiritual and communicative and great on the dancefloor, says the report in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem report reinforces the theory that good dancers are better lovers. A recent study by Rutgers University, in New Jersey, says that men who can boogie have more symmetrical bodies, which is thought to indicate good genes and may be picked up subconsciously by women seeking mates. Even if you’re a disco dope, you may still have sexy genes. The clue is in your earwax. A study in Nature Genetics reports that a gene called ABCC11 determines if your earwax is wet or dry. This gene also controls your sweat glands, says an international team of 39 scientists, led by Nagasaki University, Japan. People with the wet-wax gene may put out more sexy odours, they suggest.’ John Nash, The Times, UK, 2006

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
    Some Special Genes
        Homeotic Genes
        Embryo Story
        The Amazing Tale of
        Cell Division
        The ‘Selfish’ Gene
    X & Y

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