Time to revise the high school biology textbooks: contrary to their typical portrayal as being precisely X-shaped, chromosomes are in fact much more complex — and much messier looking. That's the finding of a new project that relied on DNA sequencing to produce accurate 3D images of chromosomes.

A collaborative effort led by the Babraham Institute is behind the 3D models. To create them, researchers first collected thousands of measurements of chromosomes, before combining them using computer modeling software. The resulting images show the precise shapes of chromosomes as they most often appear: more like blobs than X shapes (chromosomes do, however, take on an X shape during cell division). The models are also detailed enough to indicate the complex folding patterns of DNA and even map specific genes.

"Until now, our understanding of chromosome structure has been limited to rather fuzzy pictures, alongside diagrams of the all too familiar X-shape," reads a statement from Douglas Kell, chief executive of the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Research Sciences Council, which funded the research. "These truer pictures help us to understand more about what chromosomes look like in the majority of cells in our bodies."