Chromosomes in the cell nucleus

The genetic material in the nucleus of a cell is composed of a chemical called DNA. DNA is a polymer, a large and complex molecule. It is made up of two strands forming a twisted ladder structure called a double helix. It carries the genetic code, which determines the characteristics of a living organism.

Except for identical twins, each person's DNA is unique. This is why people can be identified using DNA fingerprinting. DNA can be cut up and separated, which can form a 'barcode' that is different from one person to the next.

DNA exists in a cell's nucleus within structures called chromosomes. Each section of a chromosome that contains the code for the production of a particular protein is called a gene.

Diagram showing a chromosome and its DNA

Each chromosome is made from a single molecule of DNA, but when a cell is ready to divide, the DNA copies itself, then coils and condenses to form the chromosomes that we see in micrographs.

Chromosomes carry genetic information in a molecule called DNA.

Each human body cell contains 46 chromosomes. These can be arranged into 23 pairs.

Each chromosome in a pair carries the same types of genes. The 23rd pair are the sex chromosomes:

  • In females, the two chromosomes are identical in shape. There are two X chromosomes. Females are referred to as XX.
  • In males, one of the chromosomes is a different in shape. There is an X and also a Y chromosome. Males are referred to as XY.
Diagram showing how male and female chromosomes form