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Finally, epistasis can be reciprocal such that either gene, when present in the dominant (or recessive) form, expresses the same phenotype. In the shepherd’s purse plant ( Capsella bursa-pastoris ), the characteristic of seed shape is controlled by two genes in a dominant epistatic relationship. When the genes A and B are both homozygous recessive ( aabb ), the seeds are ovoid. If the dominant allele for either of these genes is present, the result is triangular seeds. That is, every possible genotype other than aabb results in triangular seeds, and a cross between heterozygotes for both genes ( AaBb x AaBb ) would yield offspring with a phenotypic ratio of 15 triangular:1 ovoid.

As you work through genetics problems, keep in mind that any single characteristic that results in a phenotypic ratio that totals 16 is typical of a two-gene interaction. Recall the phenotypic inheritance pattern for Mendel’s dihybrid cross, which considered two non-interacting genes—9:3:3:1. Similarly, we would expect interacting gene pairs to also exhibit ratios expressed as 16 parts. Note that we are assuming the interacting genes are not linked; they are still assorting independently into gametes.

For an excellent review of Mendel’s experiments and to perform your own crosses and identify patterns of inheritance, visit the Mendel’s Peas web lab.

Section summary

Mendel postulated that genes (characteristics) are inherited as pairs of alleles (traits) that behave in a dominant and recessive pattern. Alleles segregate into gametes such that each gamete is equally likely to receive either one of the two alleles present in a diploid individual. In addition, genes are assorted into gametes independently of one another. That is, alleles are generally not more likely to segregate into a gamete with a particular allele of another gene. A dihybrid cross demonstrates independent assortment when the genes in question are on different chromosomes or distant from each other on the same chromosome. For crosses involving more than two genes, use the forked line or probability methods to predict offspring genotypes and phenotypes rather than a Punnett square.

Although chromosomes sort independently into gametes during meiosis, Mendel’s law of independent assortment refers to genes, not chromosomes, and a single chromosome may carry more than 1,000 genes. When genes are located in close proximity on the same chromosome, their alleles tend to be inherited together. This results in offspring ratios that violate Mendel's law of independent assortment. However, recombination serves to exchange genetic material on homologous chromosomes such that maternal and paternal alleles may be recombined on the same chromosome. This is why alleles on a given chromosome are not always inherited together. Recombination is a random event occurring anywhere on a chromosome. Therefore, genes that are far apart on the same chromosome are likely to still assort independently because of recombination events that occurred in the intervening chromosomal space.

Whether or not they are sorting independently, genes may interact at the level of gene products such that the expression of an allele for one gene masks or modifies the expression of an allele for a different gene. This is called epistasis.

Art connections

[link] In pea plants, purple flowers (P) are dominant to white flowers (p) and yellow peas (Y) are dominant to green peas (y). What are the possible genotypes and phenotypes for a cross between PpYY and ppYy pea plants? How many squares do you need to do a Punnett square analysis of this cross?

[link] The possible genotypes are PpYY, PpYy, ppYY, and ppYy. The former two genotypes would result in plants with purple flowers and yellow peas, while the latter two genotypes would result in plants with white flowers with yellow peas, for a 1:1 ratio of each phenotype. You only need a 2 × 2 Punnett square (four squares total) to do this analysis because two of the alleles are homozygous.

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