Rates of Mitosis in Onion Root Tips
Grade Level: 9th - 12th; Type: Life Science
Student observes the cells of an onion root tip and compares the quantity of cells in the different phases of mitosis.
- What is mitosis?
- What are the phases of mitosis?
- What happens during each phase of mitosis?
- Which phase of mitosis takes the longest amount of time?
- Which phase of mitosis is the most common?
Mitosis is the process through which a cell’s nucleus divides. Though a process, there are several stages that may be observed. The stages of the process proceed at different rates. Actively growing plant root tips have ample cells in mitosis. In this experiment, the student will create a microscope slide of the root tips of an onion to observe the cells in mitosis. The number of cells in each phase will be counted, to determine the relative rates of the phases of mitosis.
- Small fresh onion
- Small jars, glasses, or beakers
- Muriatic acid (10% HCl) found at hardware stores
- Safety goggles
- Latex gloves
- Forceps or tweezers
- Distilled water
- Pipette or eye dropper
- Paper towels
- Razor blade or scalpel
- 2 needles or pins
- 0.5% Toluidine blue available online
- Microscope slides and coverslips
- Dissecting microscope or magnifying lens
- Compound light microscope
- Create your hypothesis as to which phase of mitosis you believe will be most prevalent in your sample and why. Base this hypothesis on which phase you believe will take the longest amount of time in the cell. Next, insert 3-4 toothpicks around the sides of the onion and place the onion root side down (stem side up) in a glass or jar of water. The bottom of the onion should be submerged in the water. Wait a few days for roots to grow.
- Once there are long roots growing on the onion, remove the onion from the water and use the razor blade or scalpel to slice about 5 mm off the tips of the roots. Place the root tips into another small beaker or thin-walled glass jar. Pour muriatic acid into the jar with the root tips. Wear hand and eye protection while working with the acid. Allow the root tips to sit in the acid for about 20 minutes.
- Use forceps to remove the root tips from the acid and rinse the acid down the drain with plenty of running water. Place the root tips on a microscope slide and rinse them several times with a pipette and distilled water. Wear hand and eye protection during these steps as well.
- Carefully use the razor or scalpel to trim the root tips to 2 mm long, keeping the tips. Use needles or pins to carefully slice the root tips into 2 or more length-wise sections. Doing this work with a magnifying lens or under a dissecting microscope may be helpful.
- Use a pipette to coat the dissected root tips in Toluidine blue. Let sit for 2 minutes. Place a coverslip on top and pipette distilled water onto the slide. Use a paper towel to soak up excess dye. Use more than one microscope slide for multiple roots, with only about 2 root tips per slide.
- Place the slide on the microscope. Turn the microscope on and make sure that it is placed on its lowest magnification first. Focus the image until you can clearly distinguish the tip of the root. Move up slightly from the tip and focus on the area just above root tip where the cells will be replicating. Change the microscope objective to the next highest magnification. Focus on the area of cell replication. Identify the different stages of mitosis. If this is difficult at this magnification, try moving up to the highest magnification. Once you are able to easily identify the stages of mitosis within the area of cell replication, draw a sketch of each stage that you view. Compare the sketches to internet or textbook images of the stages to ensure that you are correctly identifying each stage of mitosis. Now that you are able to easily and correctly identify each stage, begin counting the cells in each stage. You must do this carefully and systematically to avoid counting cells more than once. Try moving from one area of the root tip, down and over to another area. Count many cells in multiple root tips, with a goal of counting at least 1000 cells. Take breaks between root tips if needed to rest your eyes and recheck your sketches. Record the number of cells in each stage with tick marks in a table. Having someone help you record the numbers while you count might be helpful.
- Once you have counted at least 1000 cells, convert your tick marks to numbers. Graph your results with a bar graph. Compare your results to your hypothesis and draw conclusions about which stage of mitosis is most common and takes the longest amount of time.
Terms/Concepts: Mitosis; Cell division; Interphase; S-phase; Gap 1 phase; Gap 2 phase; Prophase; Metaphase; Anaphase; Telophase; Cytokinesis; Cell plate; Sister Chromatid; Spindle fibers
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.