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 'bar code' that is different from one person to the next.


The cell's nucleus contains chromosomes. These are long, linear threads of DNA, which are made up of many genes. In almost all body cells, chromosomes come in pairs.


A gene is a small section of DNA in a chromosome. Each gene codes for a particular sequence of amino acids in order to make a specific protein. It is the unit of heredity and may be copied and passed on to the next generation.

The diagram shows the relationship between the cell, its nucleus, chromosomes in the nucleus and genes.

Diagram showing a chromosome and its DNA