OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Each human body cell has a full complement of DNA stored in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Figure above shows the pairs in a systematic arrangement called a karyotype. Among these is one pair of chromosomes, called the sex chromosomes, that determines the sex of the individual (XX in females, XY in males). The remaining 22 chromosome pairs are called autosomal chromosomes. Each of these chromosomes carries hundreds or even thousands of genes, each of which codes for the assembly of a particular protein—that is, genes are “expressed” as proteins. An individual’s complete genetic makeup is referred to as his or her genotype. The characteristics that the genes express, whether they are physical, behavioral, or biochemical, are a person’s phenotype.
You inherit one chromosome in each pair—a full complement of 23—from each parent. This occurs when the sperm and oocyte combine at the moment of your conception. Homologous chromosomes—those that make up a complementary pair—have genes for the same characteristics in the same location on the chromosome. Because one copy of a gene, an allele, is inherited from each parent, the alleles in these complementary pairs may vary. Take for example an allele that encodes for dimples. A child may inherit the allele encoding for dimples on the chromosome from the father and the allele that encodes for smooth skin (no dimples) on the chromosome from the mother.
Although a person can have two identical alleles for a single gene (a homozygous state), it is also possible for a person to have two different alleles (a heterozygous state). The two alleles can interact in several different ways. The expression of an allele can be dominant, for which the activity of this gene will mask the expression of a nondominant, or recessive, allele. Sometimes dominance is complete; at other times, it is incomplete. In some cases, both alleles are expressed at the same time in a form of expression known as codominance. In the simplest scenario, a single pair of genes will determine a single heritable characteristic. However, it is quite common for multiple genes to interact to confer a feature. For instance, eight or more genes—each with their own alleles—determine eye color in humans. Moreover, although any one person can only have two alleles corresponding to a given gene, more than two alleles commonly exist in a population. This phenomenon is called multiple alleles. For example, there are three different alleles that encode ABO blood type; these are designated I A , IB , and i.
Over 100 years of theoretical and experimental genetics studies, and the more recent sequencing and annotation of the human genome, have helped scientists to develop a better understanding of how an individual’s genotype is expressed as their phenotype. This body of knowledge can help scientists and medical professionals to predict, or at least estimate, some of the features that an offspring will inherit by examining the genotypes or phenotypes of the parents. One important application of this knowledge is to identify an individual’s risk for certain heritable genetic disorders. However, most diseases have a multigenic pattern of inheritance and can also be affected by the environment, so examining the genotypes or phenotypes of a person’s parents will provide only limited information about the risk of inheriting a disease. Only for a handful of single-gene disorders can genetic testing allow clinicians to calculate the probability with which a child born to the two parents tested may inherit a specific disease.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology