Chromosome (Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders)
Chromosomes are microscopic units containing organized genetic information, located in the nuclei of diploid and haploid cells (e.g. human somatic and sex cells), and are also present in one-cell non-nucleated organisms (unicellular microorganisms), like bacteria, which do not have an organized nucleus. The sum-total of genetic information contained in different chromosomes of a given individual or species are generically referred to as the genome.
In humans, chromosomes are structurally made of roughly equal amounts of proteins and DNA. Each chromosome contains a double-strand DNA molecule, arranged as a double helix, and tightly coiled and neatly packed by a family of proteins called histones. DNA strands are comprised of linked nucleotides. Each nucleotide has a sugar (deoxyribose), a nitrogenous base, plus one to three phosphate groups. Each nucleotide is linked to adjacent nucleotides in the same DNA strand by phosphodiester bonds. Phosphodiester is another sugar, made of sugar-phosphate. Nucleotides of one DNA strand link to their complementary nucleotide on the opposite DNA strand by hydrogen bonds, thus forming a pair of nucleotides, known as a base pair, or nucleotide base. Genes contain up to thousands of sequences of these base pairs. What distinguishes one gene from another is the sequence of nucleotides that code for the synthesis of a specific protein or portion of a...
(The entire section is 1080 words.)
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Chromosome (Encyclopedia of Science)
A chromosome is a structure that occurs within cells and that contains the cell's genetic material. That genetic material, which determines how an organism develops, is a molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). A molecule of DNA is a very long, coiled structure that contains many identifiable subunits known as genes.
In prokaryotes, or cells without a nucleus, the chromosome is merely a circle of DNA. In eukaryotes, or cells with a distinct nucleus, chromosomes are much more complex in structure.
The terms chromosome and gene were used long before biologists really understood what these structures were. When the Austrian monk and biologist Gregor Mendel (1822884) developed the basic ideas of heredity, he assumed that genetic traits were somehow transmitted from parents to offspring in some kind of tiny "package." That package was later given the name "gene." When the term was first suggested, no one had any idea as to what a gene might look like. The term was used simply to convey the idea that traits are transmitted from one generation to the next in certain discrete units.
(The entire section is 1115 words.)
Chromosome (World of Forensic Science)
A chromosome is a threadlike structure found in the nucleus of most cells. It carries genetic material in the form of a linear sequence of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). In prokaryotes, or cells without a nucleus, the chromosome represents circular DNA containing the entire genome. In eukaryotes, or cells with a distinct nucleus, chromosomes are much more complex in structure. The function of chromosomes is to package the extremely long DNA sequence. A single chromosome (uncoiled) could be as long as three inches and therefore visible to the naked eye. If DNA were not coiled within chromosomes, the total DNA in a typical eukaryotic cell would extend thousands of times the length of the cell nucleus.
DNA is the genetic material of all cells and contains information necessary for the synthesis of proteins. DNA is composed of two strands of nucleic acids arranged in a double helix. The nucleic acid strands are composed of a sequence of nucleotides. The nucleotides in DNA have four kinds of nitrogen containing bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Within DNA, each strand of nucleic acid is partnered with the other strand by bonds that form between these nucleotides. Complementary base pairing dictates that adenine pairs only with thymine, and guanine pairs only with cytosine (and vice versa). Thus, by knowing the sequence of bases in one strand of the DNA helix, you can determine the sequence on the other strand. For instance, if the sequence in one strand of DNA were ATTCG, the other strand's sequence would be TAAGC.
DNA functions in the cell by providing a template by which another nucleic acid, called ribonucleic acid (RNA), is formed. Like DNA, RNA is also composed of nucleotides. Unlike DNA, RNA is single stranded and does not form a helix. In addition, the RNA bases are the same as in DNA, except that uracil replaces thymine. RNA is transcribed from DNA in the nucleus of the cell. Genes are expressed when the chromosome uncoils with the help of enzymes called helicases and specific DNA binding proteins. DNA is transcribed into RNA.
Newly transcribed RNA is called messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA leaves the nucleus through the nuclear pore and enters into the cytoplasm. There, the mRNA molecule binds to a ribosome (also composed of RNA) and initiates protein synthesis. Each block of three nucleotides, called codons, in the mRNA sequence encodes for a specific amino acid, the building blocks of a protein.
Genes are part of the DNA sequence called coding DNA. Noncoding DNA represents sequences that do not have genes and only recently have been found to have many new important functions. Out of the 3 billion base pairs that exist in the human DNA, there are only about 40,000 genes. The noncoding sections of DNA within a gene are called introns, while the coding sections of DNA are called exons. After transcription of DNA to RNA, the RNA is processed. Introns from the mRNA are excised out of the newly formed mRNA molecule before it leaves the nucleus.
The human genome (which represents the total amount of DNA in a typical human cell) has approximately 3 109 base pairs. If these nucleotide pairs were letters, the genome book would number over a million pages. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total number of 46 chromosomes in a diploid cell, or a cell having all the genetic material. In a haploid cell, there is only half the genetic material. For example, sex cells (the sperm or the egg) are haploid, while many other cells in the body are diploid. One of the chromosomes in the set of 23 is an X or Y (sex chromosomes), while the rest are assigned numbers 1 through 22. In a diploid cell, males have both an X and a Y chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes. During fertilization, the sex cell of the father combines with the sex cell of the mother to form a new cell, the zygote, which eventually develops into an embryo. If the one of the sex cells has the full complement of chromosomes (diploidy), then the zygote would have an extra set of chromosomes. This is called triploidy and represents an anomaly that usually results in a miscarriage. Sex cells are formed in a special kind of cell division called meiosis. During meiosis, two rounds of cell division ensure that the sex cells receive the haploid number of chromosomes.
Chromosomes can be visible using a microscope just prior to cell division, when the DNA within the nucleus uncoils as it replicates. By visualizing a cell during metaphase, a stage of cell division or mitosis, researchers can take pictures of the duplicated chromosome and match the pairs of chromosomes using the characteristic patterns of bands that appear on the chromosomes when they are stained with a dye called giemsa. The resulting arrangement is called a karyotype. The ends of the chromosome are referred to as telomeres, which are required to maintain stability and recently have been associated with aging. An enzyme called telomerase maintains the length of the telomere. Older cells tend to have shorter telomeres. The telomere has a repeated sequence (TTAGGG) and intact telomeres are important for proper DNA replication processes.
Karyotypes are useful in diagnosing some genetic conditions, because the karyotype can reveal an aberration in chromosome number or large alterations in structure. For example, Down's syndrome is caused
A chromosome usually appears to be a long, slender rod of DNA. Pairs of chromosomes are called homologues. Each separate chromosome within the duplicate is called a sister chromatid. The sister chromatids are attached to each other by a structure called the centromere. Chromosomes appear to be in the shape of an X after the material is duplicated. The bottom, longer portion of the X is called the long arm of the chromosome (q-arm), and the top, shorter portion is called the short arm of the chromosome (p-arm).
DNA in chromosomes is associated with proteins and this complex is called chromatin. Euchromatin refers to parts of the chromosome that have coding regions or genes, while heterchromatin refers to regions that are devoid of genes or regions where gene transcription is turned off. DNA binding proteins can attach to specific regions of chromatin. These proteins mediate DNA replication, gene expression, or represent structural proteins important in packaging the chromosomes. Histones are structural proteins of chromatin and are the most abundant protein in the nucleus. In fact, the mass of histones in a chromosome is almost equal to that of DNA. Chromosomes contain five types of these small proteins: H1, H2A, H2B, H3, and H4. There are two of each of latter four histones that form a structure called the octomeric histone core. The H1 histone is larger than the other histones, and performs a structural role separate from the octomeric histone core in organizing DNA within the chromosome.
The octomeric histone core functions as a spool from which DNA is wound two times. Each histone-DNA spool is called a nucleosome. Nucleosomes occur at intervals of every 200 base pairs of the DNA helix. In photographs taken with the help of powerful microscopes, DNA wrapped around nucleosomes resembles beads (the nucleosome) threaded on a string (the DNA molecule). The DNA that exists between nucleosomes is called linker DNA. Chromosomes can contain some very long stretches of linker DNA. Often, these long linker DNA sequences are the regulatory portions of genes. These regulatory portions switch genes on when certain molecules bind to them.
Nucleosomes are the most fundamental organizing structure in the chromosome. They are packaged into structures that are 30 nanometers in size and called the chromatin fiber (compared to the 2 nm DNA double helix, and 11 nm histone core). The 30 nanometer fibers are sometimes then further folded into a larger chromatin fiber that is approximately 300 nanometers thick and represented on of the arms of the chromsome. The chromatin fibers are formed into loops by another structural protein. Each loop contains 20,0000,000 nucleotide pairs. These loops are then arranged within the chromosomes, held in place by more structural proteins. Metaphase chromosomes are approximately 1400 nm wide.
Chromosomes in eukaryotes perform a useful function during mitosis, the process in which cells replicate their genetic material and then divide into two new cells (also called daughter cells). Because the DNA is packaged within chromosomes, the distribution of the correct amount of genetic material to the daughter cells is maintained during the complex process of cell division.
Before a cell divides, the chromosomes are replicated within the nucleus. In a human cell, the nucleus just prior to cell division contains 46 pairs of chromosomes. When the cell divides, the sister chromatids from each duplicated chromosome separate. Each daughter cell ends up with 23 pairs of chromosomes and after DNA replication, the daughter cells have a diploid number of chromosomes.
In meiosis, the type of cell division that leads to the production of sex cells, the division process is more complicated. Two rounds of cell division occur in meiosis. Before meiosis, the chromosomes replicate, and the nucleus has 46 pairs of chromosomes. In the first round of meiotic cell division, the homologous chromosomes pairs separate as in mitosis (a stage called meiosis I). In the second round of cell division (meisosis II), the sister chromatids of each chromosome separate at the centromere, so that each of the four daughter cells receives the haploid number of chromosomes.
SEE ALSO DNA; DNA databanks; DNA fingerprint; DNA mixtures, forensic interpretation of mass graves; DNA profiling; Evidence; Gene; STR (short tandem repeat) analysis; War forensics.
Chromosome (Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior)
Chromosomes are structures in the nucleus of the cell that contain the DNA or hereditary material which form genes. Genes are the commonly known units of heredity, and some may contribute to a tendency toward addiction in ways that are not yet understood. Each chromo-some is an elongated structure that is clearly visible during cell division. Humans possess twenty-three pairs including the sex chromosomes. A male has an X and a Y sex chromosome, whereas a female has two X sex chromosomes. One of each pair comes from each parent.
MICHAEL J. KUHAR