10.4: Genomic DNA in Eukaryotes
Eukaryotes have large genomes compared to prokaryotes. To fit their genomes into a cell, eukaryotic DNA is packaged extraordinarily tightly inside the nucleus. To achieve this, DNA is tightly wound around proteins called histones, which are packaged into nucleosomes that are joined by linker DNA and coil into chromatin fibers. Additional fibrous proteins further compact the chromatin, which is recognizable as chromosomes during certain phases of cell division.
The Human Genome Measured in Meters
Most cells in the human body contain about 6 billion base pairs of DNA packaged into 23 pairs of chromosomes. It is hard to imagine exactly how much DNA these numbers represent, and therefore it is difficult to grasp how densely packed DNA must be to fit into a cell. We can gain some insight by expressing the genome in terms of length. If we were to arrange the DNA of a single diploid cell into a straight line, it would be about two meters long!
Note that humans do not have unusually large genomes. Many fish, amphibians, and flowering plants have much larger genomes than humans. For example, the haploid genome of the Japanese flowering plant Paris japonica contains about 50 times more DNA than the human haploid genome. These figures emphasize the astonishing work that histones and other chromatin remodeling proteins must do to package DNA.