Comparative genomics reveals that cereal genomes are composed of similar genomic building blocks (linkage blocks). By stacking these blocks in a unique order, it is possible to construct a single ancestral 'chromosome' which can be cleaved to give the basic structure of the 56 different chromosomes found in wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, millet and sugarcane. The borders of linkage blocks are defined by cereal centromeric and telomeric sites. However, a number of studies have shown that telomeric heterochromatin has neocentromeric activity, implying that linkage blocks are in fact defined by centromeric-like sites with conserved sequences. The structure of the ancestral cereal genome thus resembles a holocentric chromosome, which is the chromosome structure shared by the closest relatives of the Gramineae, the Cypericeae and Juncaceae.