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By representing alleles in a linear map, Sturtevant suggested that genes can range from being perfectly linked (recombination frequency = 0) to being perfectly unlinked (recombination frequency = 0.5) when genes are on different chromosomes or genes are separated very far apart on the same chromosome. Perfectly unlinked genes correspond to the frequencies predicted by Mendel to assort independently in a dihybrid cross. A recombination frequency of 0.5 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 chromosome or on different chromosomes.

In 1931, Barbara McClintock and Harriet Creighton demonstrated the crossover of homologous chromosomes in corn plants. Weeks later, homologous recombination in Drosophila was demonstrated microscopically by Curt Stern. 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. It is now known that homologous chromosomes regularly exchange segments in meiosis by reciprocally breaking and rejoining their DNA at precise locations.

Review Sturtevant’s process to create a genetic map on the basis of recombination frequencies here .

Mendel’s mapped traits

Homologous recombination is a common genetic process, yet Mendel never observed it. Had he investigated both linked and unlinked genes, it would have been much more difficult for him to create a unified model of his data on the basis of probabilistic calculations. Researchers who have since mapped the seven traits investigated by Mendel onto the seven chromosomes of the pea plant genome have confirmed that all of the genes he examined are either on separate chromosomes or are sufficiently far apart as to be statistically unlinked. Some have suggested that Mendel was enormously lucky to select only unlinked genes, whereas others question whether Mendel discarded any data suggesting linkage. In any case, Mendel consistently observed independent assortment because he examined genes that were effectively unlinked.

Section summary

The Chromosomal Theory of inheritance, proposed by Sutton and Boveri, states that chromosomes are the vehicles of genetic heredity. Neither Mendelian genetics nor gene linkage is perfectly accurate; instead, chromosome behavior involves segregation, independent assortment, and occasionally, linkage. Sturtevant devised a method to assess recombination frequency and infer the relative positions and distances of linked genes on a chromosome on the basis of the average number of crossovers in the intervening region between the genes. Sturtevant correctly presumed that genes are arranged in serial order on chromosomes and that recombination between homologs can occur anywhere on a chromosome with equal likelihood. Whereas linkage causes alleles on the same chromosome to be inherited together, homologous recombination biases alleles toward an inheritance pattern of independent assortment.

Art connections

[link] In a test cross for two characteristics such as the one shown here, can the predicted frequency of recombinant offspring be 60 percent? Why or why not?

[link] No. The predicted frequency of recombinant offspring ranges from 0% (for linked traits) to 50% (for unlinked traits).

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[link] Which of the following statements is true?

  1. Recombination of the body color and red/cinnabar eye alleles will occur more frequently than recombination of the alleles for wing length and aristae length.
  2. Recombination of the body color and aristae length alleles will occur more frequently than recombination of red/brown eye alleles and the aristae length alleles.
  3. Recombination of the gray/black body color and long/short aristae alleles will not occur.
  4. Recombination of the red/brown eye and long/short aristae alleles will occur more frequently than recombination of the alleles for wing length and body color.

[link] D

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