Skip to main content
[ "article:topic-guide", "showtoc:no", "license:ccbysa", "authorname:burrananddesrochers" ]
Biology LibreTexts

9: Inheritance

  • Page ID
  • Introduction

    (Adapted from

    In diploid organisms each body cell (or 'somatic cell') contains two copies of the genome. So each somatic cell contains two copies of each chromosome, and two copies of each gene. The exceptions to this rule are the sex chromosomes that determine sex in a given species. For example, in the XY system that is found in most mammals - including human beings - males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome (XY) and females have two X chromosomes (XX). The paired chromosomes that are not involved in sex determination are called autosomes, to distinguish them from the sex chromosomes. Human beings have 46 chromosomes: 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (X and Y).

    The different forms of a gene that are found at a specific point (or locus) along a given chromosome are known as alleles. Diploid organisms have two alleles for each autosomal gene - one inherited from the mother, one inherited from the father.

    Mendelian inheritance patterns

    Within a population, there may be a number of alleles for a given gene. Individuals that have two copies of the same allele are referred to as homozygous for that allele; individuals that have copies of different alleles are known as heterozygous for that allele. The inheritance patterns observed will depend on whether the allele is found on an autosomal chromosome or a sex chromosome, and on whether the allele is dominant or recessive.

    If the phenotype associated with a given version of a gene is observed when an individual has only one copy, the allele is said to be autosomal dominant. The phenotype will be observed whether the individual has one copy of the allele (is heterozygous) or has two copies of the allele (is homozygous).

    If the phenotype associated with a given version of a gene is observed only when an individual has two copies, the allele is said to be autosomal recessive. The phenotype will be observed only when the individual is homozygous for the allele concerned. An individual with only one copy of the allele will not show the phenotype, but will be able to pass the allele on to subsequent generations. As a result, an individual heterozygous for an autosomal recessive allele is known as a carrier.

    Scientists use a grid-like tool (Punnett Square) to make predictions about various genetic problems. The Punnett Square shows only the probability (the chance of something occurring) of what might occur and not the actual results. For example, if one wants to flip a coin 100 times, since there are 2 sides to the coin, he would expect 50 heads and 50 tails. If he flips the coin 100 times, he may actually get 60 heads and 40 tails. The Punnett Square only shows the chances of what might occur each time the event is undertaken.

    * It doesn't matter how often you flipped a coin or how many times it's already shown heads, the probability is ALWAYS 50% of heads/tails. For example, if I've tossed a coin 4 times and all four times it came up heads. What is the probability that my next toss will be heads?