How do these Traits get Expressed?
How does the mechanism of heredity work? Cellular DNA is the information source for making proteins in the cell. A section of DNA that provides information for one protein is called the gene for that protein. How do proteins control the characteristics that we are discussing here? Let us take the example of tallness as a characteristic. We know that plants have hormones that can trigger growth. Plant height can thus depend on the amount of a particular plant hormone. The amount of the plant hormone made will depend on the efficiency of the process for making it. Consider now an enzyme that is important for this process. If this enzyme works efficiently, a lot of hormone will be made, and the plant will be tall. If the gene for that enzyme has an alteration that makes the enzyme less efficient, the amount of hormone will be less, and the plant will be short. Thus, genes control characteristics, or traits.
If the interpretations of Mendelian experiments we have been discussing are correct, then both parents must be contributing equally to the DNA of the progeny during sexual reproduction. We have disscussed this issue in the previous Chapter. If both parents can help determine the trait in the progeny, both parents must be contributing a copy of the same gene. This means that each pea plant must have two sets of all genes, one inherited from each parent. For this mechanism to work, each germ cell must have only one gene set.
How do germ-cells make a single set of genes from the normal two copies that all other cells in the body have? If progeny plants inherited a single whole gene set from each parent, then the experiment in Fig. 9.5 cannot work. This is because the two characteristics ‘R’ and ‘y’ would then be linked to each other and cannot be independently inherited. This is explained by the fact that each gene set is present, not as a single long thread of DNA, but as separate independent pieces, each called a chromosome. Thus, each cell will have two copies of each chromosome, one each from the male and female parents. Every germcell will take one chromosome from each pair and these may be of either maternal or paternal origin. When two germ cells combine, they will restore the normal number of chromosomes in the progeny, ensuring the stability of the DNA of the species. Such a mechanism of inheritance explains the results of the Mendel experiments, and is used by all sexually reproducing organisms. But asexually reproducing organisms also follow similar rules of inheritance. Can we work out how their inheritance might work?
We have discussed the idea that the two sexes participating in sexual reproduction must be somewhat different from each other for a number of reasons. How is the sex of a newborn individual determined? Different species use very different strategies for this. Some rely entirely on environmental cues. Thus, in some animals, the temperature at which fertilised eggs are kept determines whether the animals developing in the eggs will be male or female. In other animals, such as snails, individuals can change sex, indicating that sex is not genetically determined. However, in human beings, the sex of the individual is largely genetically determined. In other words, the genes inherited from our parents decide whether we will be boys or girls. But so far, we have assumed that similar gene sets are inherited from both parents. If that is the case, how can genetic inheritance determine sex?
The explanation lies in the fact that all human chromosomes are not paired. Most human chromosomes have a maternal and a paternal copy, and we have 22 such pairs. But one pair, called the sex chromosomes, is odd in not always being a perfect pair. Women have a perfect pair of sex chromosomes, both called X. But men
have a mismatched pair in which one is a normal-sized X while the other is a short one called Y. So women are XX, while men are XY. Now, can we work out what the inheritance pattern of X and Y will be?
As Fig. 9.6 shows, half the children will be boys and half will be girls. All children will inherit an X chromosome from their mother regardless of whether they are boys or girls. Thus, the sex of the children will be determined by what they inherit from their father. A child who inherits an X chromosome from her father will be a girl, and one who inherits a Y chromosome from him will be a boy.
- How do Mendel’s experiments show that traits may be dominant or recessive?
- How do Mendel’s experiments show that traits are inherited independently?
- A man with blood group A marries a woman with blood group O and their daughter has blood group O. Is this information enough to tell you which of the traits – blood group A or O – is dominant? Why or why not?
- How is the sex of the child determined in human beings?