19.5: Crossing Over
Unlike mitosis, meiosis aims for genetic diversity in its creation of haploid gametes. Dividing germ cells first begin this process in prophase I, where each chromosome—replicated in S phase—is now composed of two sister chromatids (identical copies) joined centrally.
The homologous pairs of sister chromosomes—one from the maternal and one from the paternal genome—then begin to align alongside each other lengthwise, matching corresponding DNA positions in a process called synapsis.
In order to hold the homologs together, a protein complex—the synaptonemal complex—forms. The synaptonemal complex facilitates the exchange of corresponding random pieces of DNA between non-sister chromatids, yielding new combinations of alleles via homologous recombination.
As the synaptonemal complex begins to dissolve, X-shaped structures hold the homologous chromosomes together until recombination is completed. The structures—called chiasmata—mark the areas where crossover of genetic information occurred.