The science of genetics looks at how inherited characteristics are passed from one generation to the next. The father of genetics was the Moravian monk, Gregor Mendel, who showed with his breeding experiments in peas that individual, discrete “particles” are passed from one generation to the next. We now know that these “particles” are actually small sections of a DNA molecule called genes.
Mendel worked out that there were always two such “particles” in any cell which acted together to determine the feature described. But he knew that gametes (sex cells such as pollen grains and egg cells) only contained one “particle” for each feature. You should understand why this is.
The discrete particles that are passed from generation to generation are genes: these are sections of a DNA molecule and are located on chromosomes. Chromosomes in most organisms are found in pairs within the nucleus of a cell. The word for a cell that contains pairs of homologous chromosomes is a diploid. The gametes do not have pairs of chromosomes: they are haploid cells that contain one member of each pair. This ensures that at fertilisation when two gametes fuse, a diploid zygote is produced.
iGCSE candidates can find genetics a difficult topic and one reason is that there is lots of jargon. Have a look at my definitions for these jargon words and ensure that you understand what they mean. Genetics is not a topic in which rote learning and memorisation are helpful – the very top candidates at iGCSE will understand what is going on, and can then answer all possible questions with ease.
Gene: ” a section of a DNA molecule that codes for a single protein”
Allele: “an alternative version of a gene found at the same gene locus”
Gene locus: “the place on a chromosome where a particular gene is found”
Phenotype: “the appearance of an organism, e.g tall, short, blue eyes etc.”
Genotype: “the combination of alleles at a single gene locus that an organism possesses – e.g TT, Tt”
Homozygous: “a gene locus where the two alleles are identical is said to be homozygous – e.g. TT, tt”
Heterozygous: “a gene locus where the two alleles are different is heterozygous – e.g. Tt”
Dominant allele: “a dominant allele is the one that determines the phenotype in a heterozygous individual”
Recessive allele: ” a recessive allele can only determine the phenotype in a homozygous individual”
Codominance: “two alleles are codominant if they both contribute to the phenotype in a heterozygous individual”