In this study the telomere length distribution on individual chromosome arms in humans has been characterized. Using fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH) followed by computer-assisted analysis of digital images, we show that the distribution of telomere length on individual chromosome arms is not random, but that humans have a common telomere profile. This profile exists in both lymphocytes, amniocytes and fibroblasts, and is conserved during life until about the age of 100. We find that the length of the telomeres generally follows the length of the chromosomes and that the chromosome specific differences in telomere length are determined by factors located very distally on the chromosome arms. In addition to the common profile, we also find that each individual has specific characteristics. Based on analysis of both monozygotic and dizygotic twins, we find that these characteristics are partly inherited. For each chromosome, age-related chromosome loss correlates negatively with telomere length. This suggests that decrease in telomere length may be an element in age-related genome instability.