Alternation of generations (also known as alternation of phases or metagenesis) is a term primarily used to describe the life cycle of plants (taken here to mean the Archaeplastida). A multicellular sporophyte, which is diploid with 2N paired chromosomes (i.e. N pairs), alternates with a multicellular gametophyte, which is haploid with N unpaired chromosomes. A mature sporophyte produces spores by meiosis, a process which results in a reduction of the number of chromosomes by a half. Spores germinate and grow into a gametophyte. At maturity, the gametophyte produces gametes by mitosis, which does not alter the number of chromosomes. Two gametes (originating from different organisms of the same species or from the same organism) fuse to produce a zygote, which develops into a diploid sporophyte. This cycle, from sporophyte to sporophyte (or equally from gametophyte to gametophyte), is the way in which all land plants and many algae undergo sexual reproduction.
The relationship between the sporophyte and gametophyte varies among different groups of plants. In those algae which have alternation of generations, the sporophyte and gametophyte are separate independent organisms, which may or may not have a similar appearance. In liverworts, mosses and hornworts, the sporophyte is less well developed than the gametophyte, being entirely dependent on it in the first two groups. By contrast, the fern gametophyte is less well developed than the sporophyte, forming a small flattened thallus. In flowering plants, the reduction of the gametophyte is even more extreme; it consists of just a few cells which grow entirely inside the sporophyte.
All animals develop differently. A mature animal is diploid and so is, in one sense, equivalent to a sporophyte. However, an animal directly produces haploid gametes by meiosis. No haploid spores capable of dividing are produced, so neither is a haploid gametophyte. There is no alternation between diploid and haploid forms.
Other organisms, such as fungi, can have life cycles in which different kinds of organism alternate. The term 'alternation of generations' has also been applied to these cases.
Life cycles, such as those of plants, with alternating haploid and diploid phases can be referred to as diplohaplontic (the equivalent terms haplodiplontic, diplobiontic or dibiontic are also in use). Life cycles, such as those of animals, in which there is only a diploid phase are referred to as diplontic. (Life cycles in which there is only a haploid phase are referred to as haplontic.)
Famous quotes containing the words alternation and/or generations:
“The law of nature is alternation for evermore. Each electrical state superinduces the opposite. The soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)
“Parenthood has really changed for me. Its much more than taking care of my son; more than saying yes and no. Now I have to figure out what I think and what I know so that I can answer his questions and explain things to him.”
—Anonymous Parent. As quoted in Between Generations by Ellen Galinsky, ch. 4 (1981)