Many cells have a checkpoint that detects a single misattached chromosome and delays anaphase, allowing time for error correction. Detection probably depends on tension-sensitive kinetochore protein phosphorylation. Somehow, mechanical tension, or some consequence of tension, produces a chemical change, dephosphorylation. The mechanism of tension-mediated dephosphorylation can be approached using an in vitro system. Earlier work showed that the kinetochores of washed chromosomes from a mammalian cell line can be phosphorylated in vitro simply by incubation with ATP and a phosphatase inhibitor. We confirm this for chromosomes from insect meiotic cells. Thus, kinetochores of washed chromosomes from diverse sources contain a complete phosphorylation system: a kinase, a phosphatase and the substrate protein(s). We show that phosphorylation in vitro is sensitive to tension, as it is in living cells. This makes the conditions required for phosphorylation in vitro relevant to the process in living cells. The phosphatase is ruled out as the tension-sensitive component in vitro, leaving either the kinase or the substrate as the sensitive component. We show that a kinase extracted from mammalian cells in mitosis phosphorylates the kinetochores of insect meiotic chromosomes very effectively. The mammalian kinase under-phosphorylates the kinetochore of the insect's X-chromosome, just as the native insect kinase does. This provides a clue to the evolution of a chromosome that is not detected by the checkpoint. The mammalian kinase is not tightly bound to the chromosome and thus functions primarily in solution. This suggests that the substrate's phosphorylatable groups are freely available to outside constituents, e.g. regulators, as well as to the kinetochore's own kinase and phosphatase.