Monday, December 31, 2007

Genetic linkage

Genetic linkage occurs when particular genetic loci or alleles for genes are inherited jointly. Genetic loci on the same chromosome are physically connected and tend to segregate together during meiosis, and are thus genetically linked. Alleles for genes on different chromosomes are usually not linked, due to independent assortment of chromosomes during meiosis.

Because there is some crossing over of DNA when the chromosomes segregate, alleles on the same chromosome can be separated and go to different daughter cells. There is a greater probability of this happening if the alleles are far apart on the chromosome, as it is more likely that a cross-over will occur between them.

The relative distance between two genes can be calculated using the offspring of an organism showing two linked genetic traits, and finding the percentage of the offspring where the two traits do not run together. The higher the percentage of descendents that does not show both traits, the further apart on the chromosome they are.

Among individuals of an experimental population or species, some phenotypes or traits occur randomly with respect to one another in a manner known as independent assortment. Today scientists understand that independent assortment occurs when the genes affecting the phenotypes are found on different chromosomes.

An exception to independent assortment develops when genes appear near one another on the same chromosome. When genes occur on the same chromosome, they are usually inherited as a single unit. Genes inherited in this way are said to be linked, and are referred to as "linkage groups." For example, in fruit flies the genes affecting eye color and wing length are inherited together because they appear on the same chromosome.

But in many cases, even genes on the same chromosome that are inherited together produce offspring with unexpected allele combinations. This results from a process called crossing over. At the beginning of normal meiosis, a chromosome pair (made up of a chromosome from the mother and a chromosome from the father) intertwine and exchange sections or fragments of chromosome. The pair then breaks apart to form two chromosomes with a new combination of genes that differs from the combination supplied by the parents. Through this process of recombining genes, organisms can produce offspring with new combinations of maternal and paternal traits that may contribute to or enhance survival.

Genetic linkage was first discovered by the British geneticists William Bateson and Reginald Punnett shortly after Mendel's laws were rediscovered.

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