The most basic function of the cell cycle is to duplicate accurately the vast amount of DNA in the chromosomes and then segregate the copies precisely into two genetically identical daughter cells. These processes define the two major phases of the cell cycle. DNA duplication occurs during S phase (S for synthesis), which requires 10–12 hours and occupies about half of the cell-cycle time in a typical mammalian cell. After S phase, chromosome segregation and cell division occur in M phase (M for mitosis), which requires much less time (less than an hour in a mammalian cell). M phase involves a series of dramatic events that begin with nuclear division, or mitosis. Mitosis begins with chromosome condensation: the duplicated DNA strands, packaged into elongated chromosomes, condense into the much more compact chromosomes required for their segregation. The nuclear envelope then breaks down, and the replicated chromosomes, each consisting of a pair of sister chromatids, become attached to the microtubules of the mitotic spindle.
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