Biology » Modern Understandings of Inheritance » Chromosomal Theory and Genetic Linkage

Chromosomal Theory and Genetic Linkage

Electron micrograph shows a long, thin chromosome that has a banding pattern.

Chromosomes are threadlike nuclear structures consisting of DNA and proteins that serve as the repositories for genetic information. The chromosomes depicted here were isolated from a fruit fly’s salivary gland, stained with dye, and visualized under a microscope. Akin to miniature bar codes, chromosomes absorb different dyes to produce characteristic banding patterns, which allows for their routine identification. (credit: modification of work by “LPLT”/Wikimedia Commons; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The gene is the physical unit of inheritance, and genes are arranged in a linear order on chromosomes. The behaviors and interactions of chromosomes during meiosis explain, at a cellular level, the patterns of inheritance that we observe in populations. Genetic disorders involving alterations in chromosome number or structure may have dramatic effects and can prevent a fertilized egg from developing altogether.

Long before chromosomes were visualized under a microscope, the father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, began studying heredity in 1843. With the improvement of microscopic techniques during the late 1800s, cell biologists could stain and visualize subcellular structures with dyes and observe their actions during cell division and meiosis. With each mitotic division, chromosomes replicated, condensed from an amorphous (no constant shape) nuclear mass into distinct X-shaped bodies (pairs of identical sister chromatids), and migrated to separate cellular poles.

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