Chromosomes, DNA and genes

The DNA in all of your cells is approximately two metres long, except red blood cells which have none and sperm or eggs which only have about one metre. Because it is so long it is very thin and coiled into structures called chromosomes. The chromosomes are found in the nucleus of each cell.

The structure and function of DNA: a human with a magnifying glass showing a cell.  The cell is then magnified to show a chromosome, which is magnified to show the DNA strand.Each cell with a nucleus contains chromosomes, which are made from DNA

Human body cells each contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are from each parent. So, human gametes (eggs and sperm) each contain 23 chromosomes. When an egg is fertilised by a sperm, it becomes a cell with 23 pairs of chromosomes. This is why children resemble both their parents – half of their chromosomes and DNA come from their mother, and half from their father.

A collection of human chromosomes
A collection of human chromosomes

A gene is a section of DNA that is responsible for a characteristic like eye colour or blood group. Humans have around 20,000 genes. DNA makes up genes, which makes up chromosomes. One copy of all your chromosomes is called your genome.

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