The spindle of the colonial diatom Fragilaria contains two distinct sets of spindle microtubules (MTs): (a) MTs comprising the central spindle, which is composed of two half-spindles interdigitated to form a region of "overlap"; (b) MTs which radiate laterally from the poles. The central spindles from 28 cells are reconstructed by tracking each MT of the central spindle through consecutive serial sections. Because the colonies of Fragilaria are flat ribbons of contiguous cells (clones), it is possible, by using single ribbons of cells, to compare reconstructed spindles at different mitotic stages with minimal intercellular variability. From these reconstructions we have determined: (a) the changes in distribution of MTs along the spindle during mitosis; (b) the change in the total number of MTs during mitosis; (c) the length of each MT (measured by the number of sections each traverses) at different mitotic stages; (d) the frequency of different classes of MTs (i.e., free, continuous, etc.); (e) the spatial arrangement of MTs from opposite poles in the overlap; (f) the approximate number of MTs, separate from the central spindle, which radiate from each spindle pole. From longitudinal sections of the central spindle, the lengths of the whole spindle, half-spindle, and overlap were measured from 80 cells at different mitotic stages. Numerous sources of error may create inaccuracies in these measurements; these problems are discussed. The central spindle at prophase consists predominantly of continuous MTs (pole to pole). Between late prophase and prometaphase, spindle length increases, and the spindle is transformed into two half-spindles (mainly polar MTs) interdigitated to form the overlap. At late anaphase-telophase, the overlap decreases concurrent with spindle elongation. Our interpretation is that the MTs of the central spindle slide past one another at both late prophase and late anaphase. These changes in MT distribution have the effect of elongating the spindle and are not involved in the poleward movement of the chromosomes. Some aspects of tracking spindle MTs, the interaction of MTs in the overlap, formation of the prophase spindle, and our interpretation of rearrangements of MTs, are discussed.

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