AUG 04, 2017 5:38 AM PDT

What is a Chromosome, Anyway?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Some facts are taken for granted. In the case of genetics, we take for granted the knowledge that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, which encode everything from our appearance to our propensity for disease. But this knowledge wasn't always so well understood.

The story of the chromosome began in the 1800s with the invention of the microscope. This enabled scientists to peek inside cells, which sometimes revealed the presence of dense bodies. Further investigations revealed that these bodies took up stains, which led to the name "chromosome," from the Greek for color (chroma) and body (soma).

But while scientists observed these structures with the microscope, it wasn't until the early 1900s when the true nature and function of chromosomes came to light. By studying chromosome structures in fruit flies, Thomas Hunt Morgan linked inherited traits (gender and eye color) to chromosomes. This was the crucial piece of the puzzle that propelled researchers deeper into the study of genetics and inheritance, and how the chromosome was at the center of it all.

Today, we understand the chromosome as the packaged form of DNA. That is, chromosomes are made up of DNA that's wrapped, coiled, and condensed. This form allows cell division to take place without your genetic information ending in a tangled mess. To learn more about chromosomes, watch the video!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 11, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Cosmic Expansion: Universe Stretches, We don't
DEC 11, 2020
Cosmic Expansion: Universe Stretches, We don't
Physicists believe that we exist in an expanding universe. But what does that mean? Do our habitats, bodies, and atoms & ...
JAN 08, 2021
Space & Astronomy
New Findings Suggest Dark Matter Doesn't Exist
JAN 08, 2021
New Findings Suggest Dark Matter Doesn't Exist
The existence of dark matter has been considered a 'given' for decades as a way to understand some of the less e ...
JAN 19, 2021
Immunology
How Breastfeeding improves Infants Immunity?
JAN 19, 2021
How Breastfeeding improves Infants Immunity?
Breastfeeding benefits are well known for ages, and it has many positive impacts on infant's lives that continue wit ...
FEB 09, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
FEB 09, 2021
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
Many ocean species use sound to communicate and survive. Sound is a crucial communication method since vision is limited ...
APR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
APR 09, 2021
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
The endangered Zanzibar red colobus is a rare primate that lives only in the Zanzibar archipelago. New research from Ban ...
MAY 28, 2021
Plants & Animals
Wild Gorillas Adopt Orphaned Babies
MAY 28, 2021
Wild Gorillas Adopt Orphaned Babies
An analysis of over 50 years of data reveals that with the help of their social group, orphaned mountain gorillas do jus ...
Loading Comments...