Why Do Offspring Differ from Their Parents?

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Why offspring produced by the same parents are different in appearance

Offspring differ somewhat from their parents and from one another. Instructions for development are passed from parents to offspring in thousands of discrete genes, each of which is now known to be a segment of a molecule of DNA. This essay will explore some of the reasons behind how and why these differences in appearance arise, from the base sequence of DNA through to the observed phenotype. Genes come in different varieties, called alleles. Somatic cells contain two alleles for every gene, with one allele provided by each parent of an organism. Genotype refers to the information contained in an organisms DNA, or genetic material. Its phenotype is the physical expression of its genotype. Although every creature is born with a fixed genotype, the phenotype is a variable influenced by many factors in the animal's environment and development. For example, two cows with identical genotypes could develop quite different phenotypes if raised in different environments and fed different foods. The close association of environment with the expression of the genetic information makes animal breeding a challenging endeavor, because the physical traits a breeder desires to selectively breed for cannot always be attributed entirely to the animal's genes. Moreover, most traits are due not just to one or two genes, but to the complex interplay of many different genes. DNA consists of a set of chromosomes; the number of chromosomes varies between species (humans, for example, have 46 chromosomes). Mammals (and indeed most creatures) have two copies of each chromosome in the DNA (this is called diploid). This means there are two copies of the same gene in an animal's DNA. Sometimes each of these will be partially expressed. For example, in a person having one copy of a gene that codes for normal hemoglobin and one coding for sickle-cell hemoglobin, about half of the hemoglobin will be normal and the other half will be sickle-cell. In other cases, only one of the genes can be expressed in the animal's phenotype. The gene expressed is called dominant, and the gene that is not expressed is called recessive. For instance, a human being could have two copies of the gene coding for eye color; one of them could code for blue, one for brown. The gene coding for brown eyes would be dominant, and the individual's eyes would be brown. But the blue-eyes gene would still exist, and could be passed on to the person's children. Most of the traits an animal breeder might wish to select will be recessive, for the obvious reason that if the gene were always expressed in the animals, there would be no need to breed for it. If a gene is completely recessive, the animal will need to have two copies of the same gene for it to be expressed (in other words, the animal is homozygous for that particular gene). For this reason, animal breeding is usually most successful when animals are selectively inbred. If a bull has two copies of a gene for a desirable recessive trait, it will pass one copy of this gene to each of its offspring. The other copy of the gene will come from the cow, and assuming it will be normal, none of the offspring will show the desirable trait in their phenotype. However, each of the offspring will have a copy of the recessive gene. If they are then bred with each other, some of their offspring will have two copies of the recessive gene. If two animals with two copies of the recessive gene are bred with each other, all of their offspring will have the desired trait. In order to make eggs and sperm, which are called gametes, a special kind of cell division occurs called meiosis, in which cells divide so that each one has half the normal number of chromosomes (in humans, each sperm and egg contains 23 chromosomes). Before this division occurs, the two pairs of chromosomes wrap around each other, and a phenomenon known as crossing over takes place in which sections of one...
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