Human chromosomes

One of the best/worst things about my job is that I sometimes get/have to come up with suitable images to accompany a blog post or an article that I’m writing. As is the case with most searches, I don’t always find exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes though I find something I wasn’t looking for.

For a recent project, I was perusing Google Images* in search of a good karyotype image. I was working on an article about aneuploidy, so I was hoping to come across a usable image depicting the karyotype of an extremely aneuploid tumor cell.

In my perusals, I came across this great concept photo from photographer Jessica Lobdell – she posed as the chromosomes in a typical karyotype image! I’ve always thought chromosomes could look quite jovial. She’s captured that spirit perfectly in her poses.

Below are Jessica’s photo and (after the jump) an image of a normal human male karyotype for comparison.

Photo by Jessica Lobdell. Click the photo to go to her site.

National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health

So what’s a karyotype?

A karyotype is the collection of chromosomes in an individual. A typical cell inside your body contains 46 chromosomes, 23 from your mother and 23 from your father. These chromosomes contain just about all of the genetic information that goes into making you.

To visualize a karyotype, chromosomes are first stained with a dye. Images of the stained chromosomes are acquired using a microscope, and then the images of the chromosomes are ordered by size. The largest pair of chromosomes (chromosome 1) are positioned first, the next largest (chromosome 2) follows, and so on.

Arranging the karyotype image in this manner makes it easy to identify any extra or missing chromosomes. An abnormal number of chromosomes, or aneuploidy, is a common cause of genetic disorders, including Down syndrome in which patients have 3 copies of chromosome 21. Aneuploidy also plays a role in cancer and tumor formation. Many tumor cells exhibit aneuploidy.

Speaking of, I did eventually find a great image of an aneuploid tumor cell. It’s the first figure in this review article (subscription required, unfortunately) and will be published soon in the next Stowers Report.

*Don’t worry: I would never reuse a photo from Google Images without first requesting permission, making sure it is released under a Creative Commons license, or checking to see if it is in the public domain. I merely use the image search engine to identify potential images and for inspiration.


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