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The transmission of traits from parents to offspring is called
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Genes and genetics explained
Genes and genetics explained
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Genes and genetics explained Actions for this page Summary
Genes are the blueprint for our bodies.
If a gene contains a change, it disrupts the gene message.
Changes in genes can cause a wide range of conditions.
Sometimes a changed gene is inherited, which means it is passed on from parent to child.
Changes in genes can also occur spontaneously.
Parents who are related to each other are more likely have children with health problems or genetic conditions than unrelated parents (although most related parents will have healthy children).
On this page
How we inherit characteristics
Dominant and recessive genes
Gene changes in cells
Genes and genetics – related parents
Genetic counselling and testing
Where to get help
Your chromosomes contain the blueprint for your body – your genes. Almost every cell in the human body contains a copy of this blueprint, mostly stored inside a special sac within the cell called the nucleus. Chromosomes are long strands of a chemical substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
A DNA strand looks like a twisted ladder. The genes are like a series of letters strung along each edge. These letters are used like an instruction book. The letter sequence of each gene contains information on building specific molecules (such as proteins or hormones – both essential to the growth and maintenance of the human body).
Although every cell has two copies of each gene, each cell needs only certain genes to be switched on in order to perform its particular functions. The unnecessary genes are switched off.
Sometimes, a gene contains a change that disrupts the gene’s instructions. A change in a gene can occur spontaneously (no known cause) or it can be inherited. Changes in the coding that makes a gene function can lead to a wide range of conditions.
Humans typically have 46 chromosomes in each cell of their body, made up of 22 paired chromosomes and two sex chromosomes. These chromosomes contain between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. New genes are being identified all the time.
The paired chromosomes are numbered from 1 to 22 according to size. (Chromosome number 1 is the biggest.) These non-sex chromosomes are called autosomes.
People usually have two copies of each chromosome. One copy is inherited from their mother (via the egg) and the other from their father (via the sperm). A sperm and an egg each contain one set of 23 chromosomes. When the sperm fertilises the egg, two copies of each chromosome are present (and therefore two copies of each gene), and so an embryo forms.
The chromosomes that determine the sex of the baby (X and Y chromosomes) are called sex chromosomes. Typically, the mother’s egg contributes an X chromosome, and the father’s sperm provides either an X or a Y chromosome. A person with an XX pairing of sex chromosomes is biologically female, while a person with an XY pairing is biologically male.
As well as determining sex, the sex chromosomes carry genes that control other body functions. There are many genes located on the X chromosome, but only a few on the Y chromosome. Genes that are on the X chromosome are said to be X-linked. Genes that are on the Y chromosome are said to be Y-linked.
How we inherit characteristics
Parents pass on traits or characteristics, such as eye colour and blood type, to their children through their genes. Some health conditions and diseases can be passed on genetically too.
Sometimes, one characteristic has many different forms. For example, blood type can be A, B, AB or O. Changes (or variations) in the gene for that characteristic cause these different forms.
Each variation of a gene is called an allele (pronounced ‘AL-eel’). These two copies of the gene contained in your chromosomes influence the way your cells work.
The two alleles in a gene pair are inherited, one from each parent. Alleles interact with each other in different ways. These are called inheritance patterns. Examples of inheritance patterns include:autosomal dominant – where the gene for a trait or condition is dominant, and is on a non-sex chromosomeautosomal recessive – where the gene for a trait or condition is recessive, and is on a non-sex chromosomeX-linked dominant – where the gene for a trait or condition is dominant, and is on the X-chromosomeX-linked recessive – where the gene for a trait or condition is recessive, and is on the X-chromosomeY-linked – where the gene for a trait or condition is on the Y-chromosomeco-dominant – where each allele in a gene pair carries equal weight and produces a combined physical characteristicmitochondrial – where the gene for a trait or condition is in your mitochondrial DNA, which sits in the mitochondria (powerhouse) of your cells.
Dominant and recessive genes
The most common interaction between alleles is a dominant/recessive relationship. An allele of a gene is said to be dominant when it effectively overrules the other (recessive) allele.
Eye colour and blood groups are both examples of dominant/recessive gene relationships.
The allele for brown eyes (B) is dominant over the allele for blue eyes (b). So, if you have one allele for brown eyes and one allele for blue eyes (Bb), your eyes will be brown. (This is also the case if you have two alleles for brown eyes, BB.) However, if both alleles are for the recessive trait (in this case, blue eyes, bb) you will inherit blue eyes.
heredity, the sum of all biological processes by which particular characteristics are transmitted from parents to their offspring. The concept of heredity encompasses two seemingly paradoxical observations about organisms: the constancy of a species from generation to generation and the variation among individuals within a species. Constancy and variation are actually two sides of the same coin, as becomes clear in the study of genetics. Both aspects of heredity can be explained by genes, the functional units of heritable material that are found within all living cells. Every member of a species has a set of genes specific to that
By Theodosius Dobzhansky | See All • Edit History
human chromosomes See all media
Key People: Gregor Mendel Thomas Hunt Morgan Ernst Haeckel August Weismann Karl Pearson
Related Topics: genetics gene chimera chromosome DNA
See all related content →heredity, the sum of all biological processes by which particular characteristics are transmitted from parents to their offspring. The concept of heredity encompasses two seemingly paradoxical observations about organisms: the constancy of a species from generation to generation and the variation among individuals within a species. Constancy and variation are actually two sides of the same coin, as becomes clear in the study of genetics. Both aspects of heredity can be explained by genes, the functional units of heritable material that are found within all living cells. Every member of a species has a set of genes specific to that species. It is this set of genes that provides the constancy of the species. Among individuals within a species, however, variations can occur in the form each gene takes, providing the genetic basis for the fact that no two individuals (except identical twins) have exactly the same traits.
Learn how dominant and recessive genes determine which traits and offspring will possess
Each offspring is a combination of its two parents, receiving some dominant traits from its mother and others from its father.
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The set of genes that an offspring inherits from both parents, a combination of the genetic material of each, is called the organism’s genotype. The genotype is contrasted to the phenotype, which is the organism’s outward appearance and the developmental outcome of its genes. The phenotype includes an organism’s bodily structures, physiological processes, and behaviours. Although the genotype determines the broad limits of the features an organism can develop, the features that actually develop, i.e., the phenotype, depend on complex interactions between genes and their environment. The genotype remains constant throughout an organism’s lifetime; however, because the organism’s internal and external environments change continuously, so does its phenotype. In conducting genetic studies, it is crucial to discover the degree to which the observable trait is attributable to the pattern of genes in the cells and to what extent it arises from environmental influence.
Because genes are integral to the explanation of hereditary observations, genetics also can be defined as the study of genes. Discoveries into the nature of genes have shown that genes are important determinants of all aspects of an organism’s makeup. For this reason, most areas of biological research now have a genetic component, and the study of genetics has a position of central importance in biology. Genetic research also has demonstrated that virtually all organisms on this planet have similar genetic systems, with genes that are built on the same chemical principle and that function according to similar mechanisms. Although species differ in the sets of genes they contain, many similar genes are found across a wide range of species. For example, a large proportion of genes in baker’s yeast are also present in humans. This similarity in genetic makeup between organisms that have such disparate phenotypes can be explained by the evolutionary relatedness of virtually all life-forms on Earth. This genetic unity has radically reshaped the understanding of the relationship between humans and all other organisms. Genetics also has had a profound impact on human affairs. Throughout history humans have created or improved many different medicines, foods, and textiles by subjecting plants, animals, and microbes to the ancient techniques of selective breeding and to the modern methods of recombinant DNA technology. In recent years medical researchers have begun to discover the role that genes play in disease. The significance of genetics only promises to become greater as the structure and function of more and more human genes are characterized.
This article begins by describing the classic Mendelian patterns of inheritance and also the physical basis of those patterns—i.e., the organization of genes into chromosomes. The functioning of genes at the molecular level is described, particularly the transcription of the basic genetic material, DNA, into RNA and the translation of RNA into amino acids, the primary components of proteins. Finally, the role of heredity in the evolution of species is discussed.
Basic features of heredity
Basic features of heredity Prescientific conceptions of heredity
Heredity was for a long time one of the most puzzling and mysterious phenomena of nature. This was so because the sex cells, which form the bridge across which heredity must pass between the generations, are usually invisible to the naked eye. Only after the invention of the microscope early in the 17th century and the subsequent discovery of the sex cells could the essentials of heredity be grasped. Before that time, ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle (4th century BC) speculated that the relative contributions of the female and the male parents were very unequal; the female was thought to supply what he called the “matter” and the male the “motion.” The Institutes of Manu, composed in India between 100 and 300 AD, consider the role of the female like that of the field and of the male like that of the seed; new bodies are formed “by the united operation of the seed and the field.” In reality both parents transmit the heredity pattern equally, and, on average, children resemble their mothers as much as they do their fathers. Nevertheless, the female and male sex cells may be very different in size and structure; the mass of an egg cell is sometimes millions of times greater than that of a spermatozoon.