The series of changes in the growth and development of an organism from its beginning as an independent life form to its mature state in which offspring are produced. In simple organisms, such as bacteria, the life cycle begins when an organism is produced by fission and ends when that organism in turn divides into two new ones. In organisms that reproduce sexually, the life cycle may be thought of as beginning with the fusion of reproductive cells to form a new organism. The cycle ends when that organism produces its own reproductive cells, which then begin the cycle again by undergoing fusion with other reproductive cells. The life cycles of plants, algae, and many protists often involve an alternation between a generation of organisms that reproduces sexually and another that reproduces asexually.