The Genetic Maps


The illustration shows a Drosophila genetic map. The gene for aristae length occurs at 0 centimorgans, or lower case c upper case M. The gene for body color occurs at 48.5 lower c upper M. The gene for red versus cinnabar eye color occurs at 57.5 lower c upper M. The gene for wing length occurs at 65.5 lower c upper M, and the gene for red versus brown eye color occurs at 104.5 lower c upper M. One lower c upper M is equivalent to a recombination frequency of 0.01.
This genetic map orders Drosophila genes on the basis of recombination frequency. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

Frans Janssen did not have the technology to demonstrate crossing over so it remained an abstract idea that scientists did not widely believe. Scientists thought chiasmata were a variation on synapsis and could not understand how chromosomes could break and rejoin. Yet, the data were clear that linkage did not always occur. Ultimately, it took a young undergraduate student and an “all-nighter” to mathematically elucidate the linkage and recombination problem.

In 1913, Alfred Sturtevant, a student in Morgan’s laboratory, gathered results from researchers in the laboratory, and took them home one night to mull them over. By the next morning, he had created the first “chromosome map,” a linear representation of gene order and relative distance on a chromosome.

As the image above shows, by using recombination frequency to predict genetic distance, we can infer the relative gene order on chromosome 2. The values represent map distances in centimorgans (cM), which correspond to recombination frequencies (in percent). Therefore, the genes for body color and wing size were 65.5 − 48.5 = 17 cM apart, indicating that the maternal and paternal alleles for these genes recombine in 17 percent of offspring, on average.

To construct a chromosome map, Sturtevant assumed that genes were ordered serially on threadlike chromosomes. He also assumed that the incidence of recombination between two homologous chromosomes could occur with equal likelihood anywhere along the chromosome’s length. Operating under these assumptions, Sturtevant postulated that alleles that were far apart on a chromosome were more likely to dissociate during meiosis simply because there was a larger region over which recombination could occur. Conversely, alleles that were close to each other on the chromosome were likely to be inherited together. The average number of crossovers between two alleles—that is, their recombination frequency—correlated with their genetic distance from each other, relative to the locations of other genes on that chromosome. Considering the example cross between AaBb and aabb above, we could calculate the recombination’s frequency as 50/1000 = 0.05. That is, the likelihood of a crossover between genes A/a and B/b was 0.05, or 5 percent. Such a result would indicate that the genes were definitively linked, but that they were far enough apart for crossovers to occasionally occur. Sturtevant divided his genetic map into map units, or centimorgans (cM), in which a 0,01 recombination frequency corresponds to 1 cM.

By representing alleles in a linear map, Sturtevant suggested that genes can range from linking perfectly (recombination frequency = 0) to unlinking perfectly (recombination frequency = 0.5) when genes are on different chromosomes or genes separate very far apart on the same chromosome. Perfectly unlinked genes correspond to the frequencies Mendel predicted to assort independently in a dihybrid cross. A 0.5 recombination frequency indicates that 50 percent of offspring are recombinants and the other 50 percent are parental types. That is, every type of allele combination is represented with equal frequency. This representation allowed Sturtevant to additively calculate distances between several genes on the same chromosome. However, as the genetic distances approached 0.50, his predictions became less accurate because it was not clear whether the genes were very far apart on the same or on different chromosomes.

In 1931, Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton demonstrated the crossover of homologous chromosomes in corn plants. Weeks later, Curt Stern demonstrated microscopically homologous recombination in Drosophila. Stern observed several X-linked phenotypes that were associated with a structurally unusual and dissimilar X chromosome pair in which one X was missing a small terminal segment, and the other X was fused to a piece of the Y chromosome. By crossing flies, observing their offspring, and then visualizing the offspring’s chromosomes, Stern demonstrated that every time the offspring allele combination deviated from either of the parental combinations, there was a corresponding exchange of an X chromosome segment. Using mutant flies with structurally distinct X chromosomes was the key to observing the products of recombination because DNA sequencing and other molecular tools were not yet available. We now know that homologous chromosomes regularly exchange segments in meiosis by reciprocally breaking and rejoining their DNA at precise locations.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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