The first stage in the process of mitosis. Before prophase begins, the chromosomes duplicate to form two long, thin strands called chromatids. During prophase itself, the chromatids condense and thicken to form distinct bodies. Chromatids making up a single chromosome are joined at the middle in an area called the centromere. The membrane surrounding the nucleus disappears, and the spindle begins to form. In prophase and the later stages of mitosis until separation of the individual chromatids during anaphase, each chromosome consists of two chromatids, and each chromatid contains a complete copy of the genetic information belonging to the chromosome. For example, human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes in all somatic cells, or 46 chromosomes in total. At the end of prophase, each of these 46 chromosomes contains two identical chromatids.
One of the two stages in meiosis that resemble prophase in mitosis. However, there are important distinctions between prophase of mitosis and prophase of meiosis. The prophase of meiosis occurring during the first meiotic division of the cell is usually called prophase I. In prophase I of meiosis, pairs of homologous chromosomes intertwine and the process called crossing over occurs as chromatids from homologous pairs of chromosomes swap genetic information. This process creates genetic diversity among the gametes formed through meiosis. In mitosis, by contrast, pairs of homologous chromosomes remain separate and there is no crossing over, since the purpose of mitosis is to produce cells with identical genetic material rather than gametes. At the beginning of prophase II of meiosis, which occurs after telophase during the first meiotic division, the chromosomes of each daughter cell are grouped together in a mass. During prophase II, the individual chromosomes of the daughter cells become distinct again and begin to prepare for the second meiotic division. If a membrane has formed around the chromosomes at the end of the first division, it disappears during prophase II. See more at meiosis mitosis.