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The fundamental histone-containing structural subunit of eukaryotic chromosomes. In most eukaryotic organisms, nuclear deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is complexed with an approximately equal mass of histone protein. The nucleosome is organized so that the DNA is exterior and the histones interior. The DNA makes two turns around a core of eight histone molecules, thus forming a squat cylinder 11 nanometers in diameter and 5.5 nm in height. A short length of linker or spacer DNA connects one nucleosome to the next, forming a nucleosomal chain that has been likened to a beaded string. This basic structure is found in all forms of chromatin. Nucleosomes have been found in all eukaryotic organisms examined, the only exceptions being some sperm nuclei and the dinoflagellate algae.
A chain of adjacent nucleosomes is approximately sixfold shorter than the DNA it contains. Moreover, chains of nucleosomes have the property of self-assembling into thicker fibers in which the DNA packing ratio approaches 35:1. These observations, and the lack of any obvious catalytic activity, have led to the assumption that the primary function of the nucleosome consists of organizing and packing DNA. See Chromosome, Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), Gene