Chromosomes Actually Look Like An Insane Ball Of Spaghetti

Remember back in high school biology class when you had to sketch the structure of a cell? Chromosomes were always fun because you know they’d be these smooth X’s stuffed with DNA. Well, I hate to break it to you, but science doesn’t actually work like that.

Researchers from the Babraham Institute and the University of Cambridge have just completed detailed 3D models of chromosomes that look less like the 24th letter of the alphabet and more like technicolor pasta. As the Babraham Institute’s Dr Peter Fraser explains:

The image of a chromosome, an X-shaped blob of DNA, is familiar to many but this microscopic portrait of a chromosome actually shows a structure that occurs only transiently in cells — at a point when they are just about to divide.

The vast majority of cells in an organism have finished dividing and their chromosomes don’t look anything like the X-shape. Chromosomes in these cells exist in a very different form and so far it has been impossible to create accurate pictures of their structure.

It wasn’t easy to create the images either. To do it, the researchers used the latest DNA sequencing technology to track the movement of chromosomes on a molecular level. When combined using computers, the measurements translated into the complex 3D image.

Frankly, it all makes sense. Life is an incredibly complicated thing, so why would graphic representations of it be so simple. The only problem now is that instead of neat lines tucked into cell walls, high school students will have to draw blobs of psychedelic spaghetti. Could be worse, though. [Nature via PhysOrg via The Verge]