FEATURES OF INHERITANCE
DISCRETE INHERITANCE AND MENDEL'S LAWS
A Punnett square depicting a cross between two pea plants heterozygous for purple (B) and white (b) blossoms At its most fundamental level, inheritance in organisms occurs by means of discrete traits, called genes. This property was first observed by Gregor Mendel, who studied the segregation of heritable traits in pea plants. In his experiments studying the trait for flower color, Mendel observed that the flowers of each pea plant were either purple or white - and never an intermediate between the two colors. These different, discrete versions of the same gene are called alleles.
In the case of pea plants, each organism has two alleles of each gene, and the plants inherit one allele from each parent.Many organisms, including humans, have this pattern of inheritance. Organisms with two copies of the same allele are called homozygous, while organisms with two different alleles are heterozygous.
The set of alleles for a given organism is called its genotype, while the observable trait the organism has is called its phenotype. When organisms are heterozygous, often one allele is called dominant as its qualities dominate the phenotype of the organism, while the other allele is called recessive as its qualities recede and are not observed. Some alleles do not have complete dominance and instead have incomplete dominance by expressing an intermediate phenotype, or codominance by expressing both alleles at once.
When a pair of organisms reproduce sexually, their offspring randomly inherit one of the two alleles from each parent. These observations of discrete inheritance and the segregation of alleles are collectively known as Mendel's first law or the Law of Segregation.
INTERACTIONS OF MULTIPLE GENES
Human height is a complex genetic trait. Francis Galton's data from 1889 shows the relationship between offspring height as a function of mean parent height. While correlated, remaining variation in offspring heights indicates environment is also an important factor in this trait.
Organisms have thousands of genes, and in sexually reproducing organisms assortment of these genes are generally independent of each other. This means that the inheritance of an allele for yellow or green pea color is unrelated to the inheritance of alleles for white or purple flowers. This phenomenon, known as "Mendel's second law" or the "Law of independent assortment", means that the alleles of different genes get shuffled between parents to form offspring with many different combinations.(Some genes do not assort independently, demonstrating genetic linkage, a topic discussed later in this article.)
Often different genes can interact in a way that influences the same trait. In the Blue-eyed Mary (Omphalodes verna), for example, there exists a gene with alleles that determine the color of flowers: blue or magenta. Another gene, however, controls whether the flowers have color at all: color or white. When a plant has two copies of this white allele, its flowers are white - regardless of whether the first gene has blue or magenta alleles. This interaction between genes is called epistasis, with the second gene epistatic to the first.
Many traits are not discrete features (eg. purple or white flowers) but are instead continuous features (eg. human height and skin color). These complex traits are the product of many genes.The influence of these genes is mediated, to varying degrees, by the environment an organism has experienced. The degree to which an organism's genes contribute to a complex trait is called heritability.Measurement of the heritability of a trait is relative - in a more variable environment, the environment has a bigger influence on the total variation of the trait. For example, human height is a complex trait with a heritability of 89% in the United States. In Nigeria, however, where people experience a more variable access to good nutrition and health care, height has a heritability of only 62%.
MOLECULAR BASIS FOR INHERITANCE
DNA AND CHROMOSOMES
DNA AND CHROMOSOME
The molecular structure of DNA. Bases pair through the arrangement of hydrogen bonding between the strands.The molecular basis for genes is deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is composed of a chain of nucleotides, of which there are four types: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). Genetic information exists in the sequence of these nucleotides, and genes exist as stretches of sequence along the DNA chain. Viruses are the only exception to this rule—sometimes viruses use the very similar molecule RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material.
DNA normally exists as a double-stranded molecule, coiled into the shape of a double-helix. Each nucleotide in DNA preferentially pairs with its partner nucleotide on the opposite strand: A pairs with T, and C pairs with G. Thus, in its two-stranded form, each strand effectively contains all necessary information, redundant with its partner strand. This structure of DNA is the physical basis for inheritance: DNA replication duplicates the genetic information by splitting the strands and using each strand as a template for synthesis of a new partner strand.