Microscopic, threadlike part of a cell that carries hereditary information in the form of genes. The structure and location of chromosomes differentiate prokaryotic cells from eukaryotic cells (see prokaryote, eukaryote). Every species has a characteristic number of chromosomes; humans have 23 pairs (22 pairs of autosomal, or nonsex, chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes). Human chromosomes consist primarily of DNA. During cell division (see meiosis, mitosis), chromosomes are distributed evenly among daughter cells. In sexually reproducing organisms, the number of chromosomes in somatic (nonsex) cells is diploid, while gametes or sex cells (egg and sperm) produced by meiosis are haploid (see ploidy). Fertilization restores the diploid set of chromosomes in the zygote.
During the first stages of cell division, the recognizable double-stranded chromosome is formed by
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