Chromosome Identification


This is a karyotype of a human female. There are 22 homologous pairs of chromosomes and an X chromosome.
This karyotype is of a female human. Notice that homologous chromosomes are the same size, and have the same centromere positions and banding patterns. A human male would have an XY chromosome pair instead of the XX pair. (credit: Andreas Blozer et al)

OpenStax Biology 2e

Chromosome isolation and microscopic observation forms the basis of cytogenetics and is the primary method by which clinicians detect chromosomal abnormalities in humans. A karyotype is the number and appearance of chromosomes, and includes their length, banding pattern, and centromere position. To obtain a view of an individual’s karyotype, cytologists photograph the chromosomes and then cut and paste each chromosome into a chart, or karyogram.

In a given species, we can identify chromosomes by their number, size, centromere position, and banding pattern. In a human karyotype, autosomes or “body chromosomes” (all of the non–sex chromosomes) are generally organized in approximate order of size from largest (chromosome 1) to smallest (chromosome 22). The X and Y chromosomes are not autosomes. However, chromosome 21 is actually shorter than chromosome 22. Researchers discovered this after naming Down syndrome as trisomy 21, reflecting how this disease results from possessing one extra chromosome 21 (three total). Not wanting to change the name of this important disease, scientists retained the numbering of chromosome 21 despite describing it having the shortest set of chromosomes. We may designate the chromosome “arms” projecting from either end of the centromere as short or long, depending on their relative lengths. We abbreviate the short arm p (for “petite”); whereas, we abbreviate the long arm q (because it follows “p” alphabetically). Numbers further subdivide and denote each arm. Using this naming system, we can describe chromosome locations consistently in the scientific literature.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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