In the real world, genes often come in many versions (alleles). Alleles aren't always fully dominant or recessive to one another, but may instead display codominance or incomplete dominance.
Gregor Mendel knew how to keep things simple. In Mendel's work on pea plants, each gene came in just two different versions, or alleles, and these alleles had a nice, clear-cut dominance relationship (with the dominant allele fully overriding the recessive allele to determine the plant's appearance).
Today, we know that not all alleles behave quite as straightforwardly as in Mendel’s experiments. For example, in real life:
- Allele pairs may have a variety of dominance relationships (that is, one allele of the pair may not completely “hide” the other in the heterozygote).
- There are often many different alleles of a gene in a population.
In these cases, an organism's genotype, or set of alleles, still determines its phenotype, or observable features. However, a variety of alleles may interact with one another in different ways to specify phenotype.
As a side note, we're probably lucky that Mendel's pea genes didn't show these complexities. If they had, it’s possible that Mendel would not have understood his results, and wouldn't have figured out the core principles of inheritance—which are key in helping us understand the special cases!
Mendel’s results were groundbreaking partly because they contradicted the (then-popular) idea that parents' traits were permanently blended in their offspring. In some cases, however, the phenotype of a heterozygous organism can actually be a blend between the phenotypes of its homozygous parents.
For example, in the snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus, a cross between a homozygous white-flowered plant () and a homozygous red-flowered plant () will produce offspring with pink flowers (). This type of relationship between alleles, with a heterozygote phenotype intermediate between the two homozygote phenotypes, is called incomplete dominance.
We can still use Mendel's model to predict the results of crosses for alleles that show incomplete dominance. For example, self-fertilization of a pink plant would produce a genotype ratio of and a phenotype ratio of red:pink:white. Alleles are still inherited according to Mendel's basic rules, even when they show incomplete dominance.
Closely related to incomplete dominance is codominance, in which both alleles are simultaneously expressed in the heterozygote.
We can see an example of codominance in the MN blood groups of humans (less famous than the ABO blood groups, but still important!). A person's MN blood type is determined by his or her alleles of a certain gene. An allele specifies production of an M marker displayed on the surface of red blood cells, while an allele specifies production of a slighly different N marker.
Homozygotes ( and ) have only M or an N markers, respectively, on the surface of their red blood cells. However, heterozygotes () have both types of markers in equal numbers on the cell surface.
As for incomplete dominance, we can still use Mendel's rules to predict inheritance of codominant alleles. For example, if two people with genotypes had children, we would expect to see M, MN, and N blood types and , , and genotypes in their children in a ratio (if they had enough children for us to determine ratios accurately!)
Mendel's work suggested that just two alleles existed for each gene. Today, we know that's not always, or even usually, the case! Although individual humans (and all diploid organisms) can only have two alleles for a given gene, multiple alleles may exist in a population level, and different individuals in the population may have different pairs of these alleles.
As an example, let’s consider a gene that specifies coat color in rabbits, called the gene. The gene comes in four common alleles: , , , and :
- A rabbit has black or brown fur
- A rabbit has chinchilla coloration (grayish fur).
- A rabbit has Himalayan (color-point) patterning, with a white body and dark ears, face, feet, and tail
- A rabbit is albino, with a pure white coat.
Multiple alleles makes for many possible dominance relationships. In this case, the black allele is completely dominant to all the others; the chinchilla allele is incompletely dominant to the Himalayan and albino alleles; and the Himalayan allele is completely dominant to the albino allele.
Rabbit breeders figured out these relationships by crossing different rabbits of different genotypes and observing the phenotypes of the heterozygous kits (baby bunnies).
Want to join the conversation?
- What is multiple allele is one sentence that is easy to understand?(14 votes)
- isnt codominance the same as incomplete dominance in that case if both alleles can be expressed?(9 votes)
- Not really.
In codominance, both alleles are completely expressed. If you crossed a red flower with a white one and the alleles were codominant, you might get flowers that are red and white in patches. If the alleles were incompletely dominant, the flowers would be pink because the traits blend.(42 votes)
- I'm confused on why there are some "exponents" on the alleles. For ex, c^ch c^ch
what does that exactly mean?(9 votes)
- It's to distinguish the alleles in an easier way, once you have to deal with different traits it will be useful since the base could specify the trait while the exponent specify the allele for that trait.
For example, if you were talking about the traits color and height with the alleles red and blue, and tall and short, respectively, you could express genotype as:
C -> Color
H -> Height
R -> Red
B -> Blue
T -> Tall
S -> Short
* C^R C^B H^T H^S (This would be heterozygous in both traits)
* C^R C^R H^T H^T (This would be homozygous for red color and tall height)
You can also use lower case to denote that an allele is recessive (although this is arbitrary).(13 votes)
- Is multiple allelism the same as polymorphism?(6 votes)
- Not exactly — what is true is that genetic polymorphisms are responsible for the existence of (most) alleles.
Polymorphism (literally "many forms") means different things in different contexts, but in a genetic context it really just means that there are differences in the sequences.
For example SNPs (pronounced "snips" — stands for single nucleotide polymorphisms) are a very common type of sequence polymorphism.
Having multiple alleles is (usually§) a consequence of multiple different sequence variants for a gene (i.e. genetic polymorphisms) being present in a population. However, any two alleles are likely to have multiple polymorphisms (i.e. sequence differences) that separate them. Furthermore, two alleles that appear to the same at a phenotypic level may have different sequences. A good example of this is the ABO blood groups — traditionally we have identified three alleles Iᴬ, Iᴮ, and i, but it turns out that are multiple sequences that correspond to each of those alleles!
For more on this see:
§Note: Sometimes alleles result from epigenetic changes (heritable changes that don't alter the sequence) — these can be referred to as epialleles and appear to be less common than alleles based on sequence polymorphisms.(13 votes)
- in case of pea plant tall is the dominant gene and dwarf is the recessive gene. does that hold good for other organisms as well? is dwarf always recessive gene and cant it be dominant in the presence of tall gene?(7 votes)
- What's dominant and recessive can change between organisms because species tend not to be able to breed with other species, so the gene pool for a species tends to be isolated to just that species.(2 votes)
- I think there is a mistake in multiple alleles inheritance (in the rabbit example).
The allele for the chinchilla coat is completely (not incompletely as mentioned in the text above) dominant to the allele for Himalayan coat and the allele for albino coat.(5 votes)
- That is a nice observation! I see chinchilla has to be completely dominant. I hope guardians see and fix this.(0 votes)
- Is the rabbit example also an example of epistasis?(2 votes)
- Epistasis occurs when the phenotypes associated with alleles of one gene are affected by what alleles are present for a different gene.
How many genes are involved in the rabbit example?
Does this help you to answer your question?(5 votes)
- i still dont get it(3 votes)
- Where multiple alleles exist for a trait, anyone individual will have more than two alleles for that trait?(2 votes)
- No, they will only have 2 alleles (unless something is wrong). Multiple alleles just means that more than 2 exist. For example, there are 3 alleles for blood type in existence, but healthy individuals will only inherit 2.(2 votes)
- what is codominance i dont unerstand(2 votes)
- codominance is when both parents are both homozygous dominant and both traits show in the offspring like if a homozygous dominant yellow flower and a homozygous dominant red flower made a new flower the flower would have both red and yellow petals(2 votes)