The chromosome scaffold model in which loops of chromatin are attached to a central, coiled chromosome core (scaffold) is the current paradigm for chromosome structure. Here we present a modified version of the chromosome scaffold model to describe chromosome structure and behavior through the mitotic and meiotic cell cycles. We suggest that a salient feature of chromosome structure is established during DNA replication when sister loops of DNA extend in opposite directions from replication sites on nuclear matrix strands. This orientation is maintained into prophase when the nuclear matrix strand is converted into two closely associated sister chromatid cores with sister DNA loops extending in opposite directions. We propose that chromatid cores are contractile and show, using a physical model, that contraction of cores during late prophase can result in coiled chromatids. Coiling accounts for the majority of chromosome shortening that is needed to separate sister chromatids within the confines of a cell. In early prophase I of meiosis, the orientation of sister DNA loops in opposite directions from axial elements assures that DNA loops interact preferentially with homologous DNA loops rather than with sister DNA loops. In this context, we propose a bar code model for homologous presynaptic chromosome alignment that involves weak paranemic interactions of homologous DNA loops. Opposite orientation of sister loops also suppresses crossing over between sister chromatids in favor of crossing over between homologous non-sister chromatids. After crossing over is completed in pachytene and the synaptonemal complex breaks down in early diplotene (= diffuse stage), new contractile cores are laid down along each chromatid. These chromatid cores are comparable to the chromatid cores in mitotic prophase chromosomes. As an aside, we propose that leptotene through early diplotene represent the 'missing' G2 period of the premeiotic interphase. The new chromosome cores, along with sister chromatid cohesion, stabilize chiasmata. Contraction of cores in late diplotene causes chromosomes to coil in a configuration that encourages subsequent syntelic orientation of sister kinetochores and amphitelic orientation of homologous kinetochore pairs on the spindle at metaphase I.