Eukaryotic asexual cell division is sometimes referred to as mitosis, although this is more strictly used to refer to the specific stage at which “the replicated chromosomes separate into two new nuclei”.

The term is specific to eukaryotic cells, as prokaryotic cells have no nucleus. Is there a corresponding more specific term technical term that applies to prokaryotic cell division?

I thought this might be related to “binary fission”, but an internet search indicates this can be applied to eukaryotic organisms, such as starfish and other echinoderms.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 5, 2022 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


Fission, binary fission, cell division: these are all used more or less as synonyms for prokaryotes. "Fission" and "cell division" are more general, because they include mechanisms resulting in more than two resulting cells or an asymmetric division. As a supporting example from the literature, consider this paper:

Angert, E. R. (2005). Alternatives to binary fission in bacteria. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 3(3), 214-224.

Right in the title: "alternatives to binary fission", where binary fission is taken to be the standard prokaryotic division strategy, and in the abstract:

Whereas most prokaryotes rely on binary fission for propagation, many species use alternative mechanisms, which include multiple offspring formation and budding, to reproduce

The same terminology is used for organelles in eukaryotes.

Mitosis itself also involves "fission", and though the term isn't used as often with eukaryotes it does come up in some cases, like in contrasting "fission yeast" (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) from "budding yeast" (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

Terminology in biology isn't always strictly standardized. Standards tend to proliferate and language itself is not strict. In biology there is a tendency to conform with the terminology others have used in order to keep consistent in the scientific record in which publications build on previous work; there's little motivation to generate a new term to refer specifically to prokaryotic division if existing language used to describe it is sufficient. It's rare that there would be confusion between fission of multicellular organisms like echinoderms and fission in single cells, so there's no need for a separate term. If you're having trouble with your search results, you could try adding other keywords like "bacteria" or "prokaryote" to focus your results, or using excluded keywords with the minus sign, like:

"binary fission" -echinoderm

which on a search engine like Google to only return results without the word "echinoderm" in the result; testing that myself in a Google search only excludes about 10% of the total, though. If you're using Google, I wonder if you've also recently searched things about echinoderms and that's influencing your search results. You can try using another search engine that doesn't track your past like duckduckgo, or using Google's incognito mode to not use your history in your results.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that a discussion of search engines is relevant to your answer, and the specific context from the comments suggests the poster needs different advice. If he wishes to find English terms when his computer defaults to German he would be advised to use Firefox as a secondary web browser and set its primary language to English (while retaining German in a different primary browser). Then he is likely to see English terms. 2. He can search Wikipedia in German and then switch to the English version in the left column. I use these techniques with the various languages I work in. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 6, 2022 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think your answer would be improved by a linguistic explanation of the meaning of the basic terms, "fission" and "binary fission", neither of which are Anglo-Saxon in origin. The Wikipedia article on the subject states "Binary fission means 'division into two'", and reference to dictionaries hardly extends the meaning of "fission" beyond "division". $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 6, 2022 at 16:32

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