Journal of The Royal Society Interface

    The measurement of the dimensions of metaphase chromosomes in different animal and plant karyotypes prepared in different laboratories indicates that chromatids have a great variety of sizes which are dependent on the amount of DNA that they contain. However, all chromatids are elongated cylinders that have relatively similar shape proportions (length to diameter ratio approx. 13). To explain this geometry, it is considered that chromosomes are self-organizing structures formed by stacked layers of planar chromatin and that the energy of nucleosome–nucleosome interactions between chromatin layers inside the chromatid is approximately 3.6 × 10−20 J per nucleosome, which is the value reported by other authors for internucleosome interactions in chromatin fibres. Nucleosomes in the periphery of the chromatid are in contact with the medium; they cannot fully interact with bulk chromatin within layers and this generates a surface potential that destabilizes the structure. Chromatids are smooth cylinders because this morphology has a lower surface energy than structures having irregular surfaces. The elongated shape of chromatids can be explained if the destabilizing surface potential is higher in the telomeres (approx. 0.16 mJ m−2) than in the lateral surface (approx. 0.012 mJ m−2). The results obtained by other authors in experimental studies of chromosome mechanics have been used to test the proposed supramolecular structure. It is demonstrated quantitatively that internucleosome interactions between chromatin layers can justify the work required for elastic chromosome stretching (approx. 0.1 pJ for large chromosomes). The high amount of work (up to approx. 10 pJ) required for large chromosome extensions is probably absorbed by chromatin layers through a mechanism involving nucleosome unwrapping.