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Chromosomes are structures within a cell which contain the genetic information that is passed
on from one generation to the next.

In prokaryotes, there is usually a large circular chromosome. In addition, there may be several
smaller circular chromosomes called plasmids. None of these is enclosed in a membrane, they
merely drift around within the cytoplasm of the prokaryote cell.

In eukaryotes, most chromosomes are located in the cell nucleus and are composed of protein
and DNA. Smaller chromosomes exist in mitochondria and chloroplasts - these tend to regulate
activity solely within the organelle in which they occur.

Chromosomes only become visible through a microscope just prior to cell
division. Before they are able to be seen, the DNA has been duplicated and
coils tightly around proteins. The two strands of DNA so formed are called
chromatids and are still joined by a protein disk at a point called the

Human cells other than gametes (= somatic cells) contain 46 chromosomes. This represents 22
pairs of autosomes and a pair of so called sex chromosomes. When a cell has a set of paired
chromosomes, as in a somatic cell, it is described as diploid.

The chromosomes in each autosome pair (= homologous chromosomes) look very similar in
length, position of the centromere and staining reactions. And when the genetic information on a
pair is examined it is found that the genes match up perfectly although the proteins for which
they code may have important differences.

The sex chromosomes may or may not be homologous. In a human female, each somatic cell has
two copies of the X chromosome as well as the 22 autosome pairs. The human male has 22 pairs
of autosomes and one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is physically
smaller than an X chromosome and only some of the genetic information on an X chromosome
has matching information on the Y chromosome.

Other species have different numbers of chromosome pairs in their somatic cells. It is this
difference in size and arrangement of chromosomes which, at the molecular level, separates one
species from the other.

Individuals which are the product of sexual reproduction. gain half of their DNA from each parent. new individuals need a supply of DNA in order to exist. . Cells and Individuals". A different type of cell reproduction is called for in preparation for sexual reproduction if the cells of the offspring are not to be overloaded with too many chromosomes.Mitosis The process of mitosis ensures that each new (daughter) cell in the organism's body inherits the correct amount of DNA. Meiosis The process of meiosis results in gametes with half as many chromosomes as a normal body cell (a somatic cell). they are provided with a copy of the same chromosomes. Similarly. however. Cells and Individuals". This is described in more detail on the page"New proteins. Gametes from two parents unite in sexual reproduction to form a zygote with the correct amount of DNA. If these individuals are generated by asexual reproduction. and genes. as the parent from which they arise. This is described in more detail on the page "New proteins.