Do the 46 human chromosomes form a single unbroken DNA helix? Or is it rather that a human's genome consists of 46 disconnected helices?

If it is the former, does the common numbering scheme for the chromosomes have any correlation to their actual ordering in the one large strand?

If is the latter, is there a convention on how the chromosomes are ordered in genomic datasets? Also, is there a clear understanding of how sister chromosomes "find" each other in Meiosis I?

Generally, during periods when Mitosis/Meiosis are not occurring, what's a good physical picture for how the chromosomes are physically arranged (e.g. a bowl of 46 spaghetti noodles, or maybe the sister chromosomes always stay close together, etc)



1 Answer 1


Each chromosome is a pair of distinct, separate DNA molecules. A chromosome of an eukaryotic cell nucleus is a (long) helix of two linear molecules and so has two ends, which are called telomeres. DNA naturally forms a double helix with its complementary DNA molecule, and the double helix can further curl in what are called supercoils.

In humans, the chromosomes occur in 23 pairs (totaling 46). Except for the sex chromosome pair, each member of the pair is identical in appearance in a karyotype (picture) and each such pair has a number assigned from 1 to 22; the numbering generally follows the size of the chromosome, with chromosome 1 being the longest. In mammals, the sex chromosomes in a male are quite different in size and are labelled X and Y; a female has two identical X chromosomes.

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    $\begingroup$ Technically each chromosome consists of two DNA molecules. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer Well... it depends on whether you consider hydrogen bonding being strong enough to consider the whole thing as a single molecule. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Remi.b I don't ;) Not that it means anything, but I've also never heard anyone use hydrogen bonding in the definition of a molecule. Is a glass of water a single molecule? $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer My chemistry teacher in high school used to say that $H_20$ should rather be called $H_{12}0_6$ or something like that. :) And the two DNA strands literally stick to each other and are really not moving independently. But I agree with you. I'd rather consider one chromosome as being made of two molecules. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer, Remi.b,: edited to reflect what you pointed out. $\endgroup$
    – mgkrebbs
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 20:24

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