Chromosome Morphology

The term chromosome (Chrome = Color; Soma = body) was first coined by W. Waldeyar (1888). Meaning of chromosome is nothing but the darkly stained body.

It is a carrier of hereditary characters which are passed from one generation to the next.

The genetic information is stored in the form of genes.

In prokaryotes, there is a single chromosome either in the form of circular DNA or RNA.

In eukaryotic cells, chromosomes are present in the nucleus.

The chromosomes are distinct, highly organized, condensed, rod-like structures visible under a light microscope at the metaphase and anaphase stages of cell division.

It can be studied properly at metaphase or anaphase of cell division.

Chromosome Size

The size of the chromosome is normally measured at mitotic metaphase. It ranges between 0.25 μ (fungi and birds) to 30 μ (Trillium).

In human, it is about 5 μ. The size of the chromosome is inversely proportional to its number in the organism. Plant cells generally have larger chromosomes than animal cells.

The chromosomes in the cell are never alike in size. The largest chromosomes are the lampbrush chromosome of certain vertebrate oocytes and the polytene chromosome of certain dipteran insects.

Chromosome Structure

chromosome structure

The chromosome or chromatid consists of chromonema, centromere, secondary constrictions, nucleolar organizers, telomere, and satellite. During cell division structure of chromosome is clearly visible under microscope.


  • A metaphysic chromosome shows two subunits called chromatids hold together at the point called the centromere. Each chromatid is formed of two fibrils called chromonemata.
  • The number of chromonemata is not fixed in each chromatid. It varies from 2 to 32 in number. During prophase, the chromosome becomes visible and filamentous called chromonemata.
  • Cromonemata form gene bearing portion of the chromosomes. The bead-like appearance of chromatin material on chromonemata is called chromomeres.
  • At metaphase chromosomes are tightly coiled and cromomeres are no longer visible.
  • Cromomeres are regions of tightly folded DNA and they are believed to correspond to units of genetic function in the chromosomes.


  • A specialized constricted region on the chromosome is called primary constriction or centromere.
  • The shape of the centromere remains of a particular chromosome.
  • It becomes functional during cell division. The main function of the centromere is the attachment of the chromosome to the spinning material during cell division.
  • Generally, there is only one centromere on the chromosome. However, in some animals and plants, it is irregular and lies spread over chromosome lengths. This centromere is called diffused centromere and the chromosome is called polycentric.
  • Sometimes a chromosome may break into two so that only one part gets a centromere while the other remains without centromere. This part of the chromosome without centromere is called an acentric fragment.
  • If a new centromere appears on this fragment, then it is called neo-centromere.

Secondary constriction

  • There may be one or more secondary constrictions on chromosomes. These are nonstaining gaps on the chromosomes.
  • Their location is constant for a particular chromosome; hence it is useful for the identification of chromosomes. In man, secondary constriction II is formed on the long arms of chromosomes 1, 10, 13, 16, and Y.
  • Nucleolar organizer (Secondary constriction I): There is an additional construction on two homologous chromosomes of a diploid set, called nucleolar organizer.
  • These are necessary for the formation of the nucleolus. It appears as a constriction near one end of the chromosome.

Nucleolar organizer

The nucleolar organizer may be attached to the nucleolus. It represents about 0.3% of the total amount of nuclear DNA. It is believed to be concerned with the formation of 28 S rRNA.


  • The part of the chromosome beyond the nucleolar organizer is very short and appears like a satellite.
  • In humans, chromosomes 13, 14, 15, 21, 22, and Y have nucleolar organizers and satellites.
  • Chromosomes bearing satellites are called SAT chromosomes (SAT stands for Sine Acid Thymonuclenico. i.e. without thymonuclic acid or DNA).


  • The tips of chromosomes are called telomeres.
  • It differs in structure and composition from the rest of the chromosome.
  • They prevent the ends of chromosomes from sticking together.
  • These are specially modified regions of chromosomes for attachment to the nuclear envelope.

Eukaryotic Chromosome Molecular Organization

In resting nondividing eukaryotic cells, the chromosomal material is called chromatin.

It is amorphous and spread in the nucleus but when the cell prepares for mitosis or meiosis’ the chromatin condenses to form a species-specific number of well-defined chromosomes.

A chemically eukaryotic chromosome consists of DNA (35%), proteins (60%), and less amount of RNA (5%). The histone to DNA ratio is 1:1. The proteins are of two types viz. i) histones and ii) non-histone chromosomal proteins (NHCP).


Histones are basic proteins associated with the DNA of eukaryotic cells.

There are five major types of histones as H1, H2A, H2B, H3, and H4. Histones are rich in the basic amino acids arginine and lysine.

These histones combine with a single 20A0 DNA duplex and form a bead called a nucleosome. Nucleosomes are basic structural subunits of chromatin.

Non-Histone chromosomal proteins (NHCP)

The non-histone chromosomal proteins include the other proteins of chromatin e.g. RNA polymerase, actin, myosin.

According to Paulson (1977), non-histones form a backbone that provides the basic shape to the metaphase chromosome.

Types Of Chromosomes

Based on function of chromosome

  1. Autosomes
  2. Sex chromosomes


Autosomes control the determination of the somatic characters of an organism.

The number of autosomes is always more in the nucleus.

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Sex Chromosome

Sex chromosomes are responsible for the determination of the sex of an individual.

These are of two types i.e. X and Y chromosomes.

The X chromosome is longer than the Y chromosome. It is straight, rod-like, and sub-metacentric.

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Based on position of the centromere

Depending on the position of the centromere on the chromosome, it has different shapes as follows,

  1. Metacentric – The centromere is present nearly in the middle of the chromosome.
  2. Submetacentric – One arm of the chromosome is shorter than the other. Such chromosomes are called submetacentric. They appear ‘L’ shaped during anaphase movements.
  3. Acrocentric – The centromere is a little away from the end of a chromosome. These chromosomes are called acrocentric. They appear ‘J’ shaped during anaphase movements.
  4. Telocentric – When the centromere is located at the tip of the chromosome then it is called telocentric. These chromosomes appear ‘i’ shaped during anaphase movements. Telocentric chromosomes are very rare.

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Based on number of centromeres present

  1. Monocentric – They having only one centromere present.
  2. Holocentric – They having diffused centromere and microtubules are attached along the length of a chromosome.
  3. Acentric – These chromosome may break and fuse together to form a chromosome without a centromere.
  4. Dicentric – These chromosomal aberration where chromosomes break and fuse together with two centromeres.

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Special Types Of Chromosomes

Polytene Chromosomes

Normally chromosomes are not visible during interphase but polytene chromosomes are the exception.

They are visible during the interphase.

They were first observed by Balbiani (1881) in salivary glands of Chironomus tetanus; hence the name salivary gland chromosome.

These chromosomes are also found in some other organs like the foregut, midgut, trachea, Malpighian tubules, and fat body cells of dipteran insects.

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Lampbrush Chromosomes

The lampbrush chromosomes were first observed in Salamander (amphibian) oocytes in 1882.

These are also found in immature eggs or oocytes of amphibians, birds, mammals, and spermatocytes of certain insects, birds, and other vertebrates.

These chromosomes in shark oocytes were first described by Ruckert (1892). These are named lampbrush chromosomes due to their appearance like a brush used for cleaning the chimneys of kerosene lamps.

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Structure of nucleosome

Electron microscopic view reveals that chromatin consists of a series of beads called nucleosomes connected by thread-like structures (linkers).

Each nucleosome consists of histone core or octamer formed of two units of each H2A, H2B, H3, and H4 histone wrapped by 200 base pairs of DNA.

This DNA forms about 1¾ turn around the octamer. The rest of the segment of DNA connects two adjacent nucleosomes is called linker DNA.

It contains about 15 to 100 base pairs. The linker DNA is coiled or folded in a normal state of chromatin. The H1 histone is associated with linker DNA.

The coiling of linker DNA makes nucleosomes closely packed to produce a chromatin fiber of 100A0 diameter.

Supercoiling of 100A0 chromatin fiber forms a solenoid with a diameter of 300A0 fiber.

Chromosomal Aberrations

Definition: “Changes in the structure and number of chromosomes are called chromosomal aberration.” These are two types of chromosomal aberrations as follows –

  1. Numerical aberrations
  2. Structural aberrations

Numerical aberrations –

The change in the number of chromosomes is called numerical aberration. The change may result in either an increase or decrease in the number of chromosomes, that condition is called ploidy.

The ploidy can occur either in the complete set of chromosomes or in the individual chromosomes. It is of two types –


Aneuploidy is a condition in which there is the addition or deletion of one or more chromosomes in a diploid set of chromosomes.

It causes due to non-disjunction of chromosomes e.g. in humans, 46 chromosome is a diploid condition. If there is 47 or 45 instead of 46, this will be the Aneuploidy.


The term euploidy is derived from the Greek word (EU = even or true; ploidy = set).

Euploidy is a condition in which an organism possesses one or more full sets of chromosomes.

Euploidy is classified into haploidy, diploidy, triploidy, and polyploidy.

Structural Aberrations

Chromosomes have a definite structure and organization. However, sometimes chromosomes undergo certain structural modifications which are known as chromosomal aberrations or chromosomal mutations or structural anomalies. It leads to change in
arrangement of the genes on chromosomes.

Various kinds of chromosomal aberrations are as follows,

  1. Deletion
  2. Duplication
  3. Inversion
  4. Translocation

Deletion or Deficiency

  • When there is a loss of some part of a chromosome, it is called deletion or deficiency.
  • In this case a chromosome breaks at two places, the broken part gets separated while the two ends of the chromosome join together and give rise to a mutated chromosome.
  • There are two types of deletion,


  • Some time deleted portion of the chromosome attaches to another chromosome at the centromere resulting in the duplication of a part of the chromosome.
  • This condition is called duplication or addition. This extra part of the chromosome behaves like an independent chromosome.


  • In this process chromosome breaks at two points and the central piece get detached. The broken piece then re-attaches at its original position with the two ends reversed.
  • Fusion of the gamete carrying inversion with normal gamete does not show a visible phenotypic change in offspring.


  • These are changes in the arrangement of genes in the chromosome.
  • There is no change in the quality or quantity of genes, only the rearrangement of genes occurs.
  • There is no change in phenotypic characters of an individual due to translocation, only change occurs in the position of genes.

References and Sources

Further Readings

  1. Streak Plate Technique
  2. Serial Dilution in Microbiology
  3. Bacterial Growth and Nutrition
  4. Fundamental Microscopy
  5. Aberration In Lens System