42 5.2 Chromosomes and Genes

Created by: CK-12/Adapted by Christine Miller

Identical Twins, Identical Genes

Figure 5.2.1 Identical twins share the same DNA since they came from a single zygote.

You probably can tell by their close resemblance that these two young ladies are identical twins (Figure 5.2.1). Identical twins develop from the same fertilized egg, so they inherit copies of the same and have all the same genes. Unless you have an identical twin, no one else in the world has exactly the same as you. What are genes? How are they related to chromosomes? And how do genes make you the person you are? Let’s find out!

Introducing Chromosomes and Genes

Figure 5.2.2 Human male karyotype. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes per cell. The chromosomes in a pair are known as [pb_glossary id="1284"]homologous chromosomes[/pb_glossary].

 are coiled structures made of  and . They are encoded with genetic instructions for making  and . These instructions are organized into units called . There may be hundreds (or even thousands!) of genes on a single chromosome. Genes are segments of DNA that code for particular pieces of RNA. Once formed, some RNA molecules go on to act as blueprints for building proteins, while other RNA molecules help regulate various processes inside the cell. Some regions of DNA do not code for RNA and serve a regulatory function, or have no known function.

Human Chromosomes

Each species is characterized by a set number of chromosomes. Humans cells normally have two sets of chromosomes in each of their cells, one set inherited from each parent. Because chromosomes occur in pairs, these cells are called or 2N. There are 23 chromosomes in each set, for a total of 46 chromosomes per diploid cell. Each chromosome in one set is matched by a chromosome of the same type in the other set, so there are 23 pairs of chromosomes per cell. Each pair consists of chromosomes of the same size and shape, and they also contain the same genes. The chromosomes in a pair are known as .

All human cells (except gametes, which are sperm and egg cells) have the 23 pairs of chromosomes as shown in Figure 5.2.2.

 

Secrets of the X chromosome – Robin Ball, TED-Ed, 2019.

Autosomes

Of the 23 pairs of human chromosomes, 22 pairs are called autosomes (pairs 1-22 in the Figure 5.2.2), or autosomal chromosomes. are chromosomes that contain genes for characteristics that are unrelated to biological sex. These chromosomes are the same in males and females. The great majority of human genes are located on autosomes.

Sex Chromosomes

Image shows a artists rendition of the comparative sizes of the X and Y chromosome. The X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromsosome.
Figure 5.2.3 The X and Y chromosomes, also known as the sex chromosomes, determine the biological sex of an individual.

The remaining pair of human chromosomes consists of the sex chromosomes, X and Y (Pair 23 in Figure 5.2.2 and in Figure 5.2.3). Females have two X chromosomes, and males have one X and one Y chromosome. In females, one of the X chromosomes in each cell is inactivated and known as a . This ensures that females, like males, have only one functioning copy of the X chromosome in each cell.

As you can see from Figure 5.2.3, the X chromosome is much larger than the Y chromosome. The X chromosome has about two thousand genes, whereas the Y chromosome has fewer than 100, none of which is essential to survival. Virtually all of the X chromosome genes are unrelated to sex. Only the Y chromosome contains genes that determine sex. A single Y chromosome gene, called SRY (which stands for sex-determining region Y gene), triggers an embryo to develop into a male. Without a Y chromosome, an individual develops into a female, so you can think of female as the default sex of the human species.

Human Genes

Humans have an estimated 20 thousand to 22 thousand genes. This may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. Far simpler species have almost as many genes as humans. However, human cells use splicing and other processes to make multiple proteins from the instructions encoded in a single gene. Only about 25 per cent of the nitrogen base pairs of DNA in human chromosomes make up genes and their regulatory elements. The functions of many of the other base pairs are still unclear, but with more time and research their roles may become understood.

The majority of human genes have two or more possible versions, called . Differences in alleles account for the considerable genetic variation among people. In fact, most human genetic variation is the result of differences in individual DNA base pairs within alleles.

Linkage

Genes that are located on the same chromosome are called . Linkage explains why certain characteristics are frequently inherited together. For example, genes for hair colour and eye colour are linked, so certain hair and eye colours tend to be inherited together, such as dark hair with dark eyes and blonde hair with blue eyes. Can you think of other human traits that seem to occur together? Do you think they might be controlled by linked genes?

Genes located on the sex chromosomes are called . Most sex-linked genes are on the X chromosome, because the Y chromosome has relatively few genes. Strictly speaking, genes on the X chromosome are , but the term sex-linked is often used to refer to them. The diagram below is called a linkage map: a linkage map shows the locations of specific genes on a chromosome. The linkage map below (Figure 5.2.4) shows the locations of a few of the genes on the human X chromosome.

Figure 5.2.4 Linkage Map for the Human X Chromosome. This linkage map shows the locations of several genes on the X chromosome. Some of the genes code for normal proteins. Others code for abnormal proteins that lead to genetic disorders.

5.2 Summary

  • are coiled structures made of and that are encoded with genetic instructions for making  and proteins. The instructions are organized into units called , which are segments of DNA that code for particular pieces of RNA. The RNA molecules can then act as a blueprint for proteins, or directly help regulate various cellular processes.
  • Each species is characterized by a set number of chromosomes. The normal chromosome complement of a human cell is 23 pairs of chromosomes. Of these, 22 pairs are , which contain genes for characteristics unrelated to sex. The other pair consists of (XX in females, XY in males). Only the Y chromosome contains genes that determine sex.
  • Humans have an estimated 20 thousand to 22 thousand genes. The majority of human genes have two or more possible versions, which are called .
  • Genes that are located on the same chromosome are called . Linkage explains why certain characteristics are frequently inherited together. A linkage map shows the locations of specific genes on a chromosome.

5.2 Review Questions

  1. What are chromosomes and genes? How are the two related?
  2. Describe human chromosomes and genes.
  3. Explain the difference between autosomes and sex chromosomes.
  4. What are linked genes, and what does a linkage map show?
  5. Explain why females are considered the default sex in humans.
  6. Explain the relationship between genes and alleles.
  7. Most males and females have two sex chromosomes. Why do only females have Barr bodies?

5.2 Explore More

WACE Biology: Coding and Non-Coding DNA, Atomi, 2019.

How Sex Genes Are More Complicated Than You Thought, Seeker, 2015.

Attributions

Figure 5.2.1

Twins5 [photo] by Bùi Thanh Tâm on Unsplash is used under the Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license).

Figure 5.2.2

Human_male_karyotype by National Human Genome Research Institute/ NIH  on Wikimedia Commons is released into the public domain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain). (Original from the Talking Glossary of Genetics.)

Figure 5.2.3

Comparison between X and Y chromosomes byJonathan Bailey, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health [NIH] Image Gallery, on Flickr is used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/) license.

Figure 5.2.4

Linkage Map of Human X Chromosome by Christine Miller is used under a
CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) license.

 

References

Atomi. (2019, October 27). WACE Biology: Coding and Non-Coding DNA. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4ut72kfUJM&feature=youtu.be

Seeker. (2015, July 26). How Sex Genes Are More Complicated Than You Thought. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhHGCvMlrb0&feature=youtu.be

TED-Ed. (2017, April 18). Secrets of the X chromosome – Robin Ball. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veB31XmUQm8&feature=youtu.be

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Human Biology by Christine Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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