Difference between a Gene and a Chromosome

By: | Updated: Dec-6, 2017

One would imagine scientists in lab gowns debating the differences between genes and chromosomes. Good thing these guys have been on the same page about the fundamental differences between genes and chromosomes for quite a while now! Time to dig in for a bit of learning.

Summary Table

Contains the genetic code that determines traitsContains the genes
There are 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the human bodyThere are 46 chromosomes in the human body
A strand of DNAA long strand of DNA


gene in relation to a chromosome
A gene in relation to a chromosome (the x-shaped piece on the right)

A gene is responsible for carrying the information that determines a person’s physical characteristics and features, or what are called “traits.” These traits are passed on from parent to offspring. For instance, if both parents have blond hair or gray eyes, it’s highly probable that their children will inherit these features. This is why people say “it’s in the genes” when referring to traits that parents and offspring share in common.

The Human Genome Project estimates that there are 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the human body. To be specific, genes are found in microscopic spaghetti-like structures called chromosomes. Genes come in pairs, and each parent has two copies of each gene in their body. The offspring gets one copy of each gene from both parents to build its own set of genes. This is how the offspring inherits the physical traits from its parents.

The DNA contained in each gene carries instructions for building proteins in the cell. Proteins are critical building blocks in the development of every organ in our body – from our blood and our bones to our hair and muscles – all are composed of proteins. In addition, proteins help the body develop, function properly, and stay healthy. Scientists say that each gene may produce as many as ten different proteins.

diagram of what a chromosome is made of
A diagram of what a chromosome is made of

A chromosome is a long segment of DNA which contains the genes that determine an organism’s physical features and characteristics. Located in the cell nucleus, chromosomes are also composed of chromatin, which is the combination of DNA and protein.

The human body has 46 chromosomes or 23 pairs. Each person has a set of chromosomes passed on from each of their parents. Included in this set is a pair of sex chromosomes. The mother’s egg cell always has an X chromosome while the father’s sperm carries either a Y or an X. This pair of chromosomes will determine the offspring’s sex.

There’s a different number of chromosomes found in different animals. A human that does not have the typical amount of chromosomes may die or suffer from a genetic disorder. Down syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome are such genetic disorders.

Gene vs Chromosome

So what’s the difference between a gene and a chromosome? Genes carry the specific code that provides the function of each protein. Chromosomes are found in every cell of the human body. They carry the genes that carry genetic information of all living organisms. They are composed of protein and DNA. Genes are inherited by the child from the parents and are important in the determining the child’s traits.There are 23 pairs of chromosomes passed on by each parent to the child, which makes a total of 46 chromosomes. On the other hand, there are an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the human body.


Here’s a quick YouTube video that talks about DNA, genes, and chromosomes.

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