Gene Interaction: What is it?

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Gene interactions between clusters of genes impact an organism’s phenotype, resulting in variable physical traits. Understanding gene interactions is important for understanding heritability, including the inheritance of deleterious traits. Gene interactions can alter or suppress a phenotype, as seen in incomplete dominance and selective genetic interactions. The fruit fly is extensively studied in genetics, while in humans, geneticists rely on population data. Gene interactions can limit protein production or interfere with coding, resulting in garbled physical traits. Hybrids can show both beneficial and disadvantageous gene interactions.

A gene interaction is an interaction between multiple genes that impacts the expression of an organism’s phenotype. Although the expression of physical traits is often described as the result of inheriting two genes, one for each allele from each parent, it is actually much more complicated. Clusters of genes interact with each other, explaining why phenotypes are so variable among individual members of a species. Understanding gene interactions is an important aspect of understanding heritability, especially the inheritance of deleterious traits.

Gene interactions can result in the alteration or suppression of a phenotype. This can occur when an organism inherits two different dominant genes, for example, resulting in incomplete dominance. This is commonly seen in flowers, where breeding two flowers that pass on dominant genes can lead to a flower of an unusual color caused by incomplete dominance. If red and white are dominant, for example, the offspring could be pink or streaked as a result of a gene interaction.

Sometimes, the genetic traits are completely suppressed. People with albinism may carry genes for traits that aren’t expressed in their phenotypes because albinism works to turn off those genes. This is also seen in coloration patterns in animals such as tortoiseshell cats, where the unusual hair color is the result of selective genetic interactions, with genes being turned off in some locations and turned on in others.

The fruit fly is notoriously extensively studied in genetics, and much of the understanding of how gene interactions work comes from working with the fruit fly in laboratory settings. In organisms such as humans, where genetic experimentation is considered unethical, geneticists are forced to rely on existing population data to learn about dominant and recessive traits and to see how clusters of genetic traits may interact. A gene interaction is the result of the inheritance of genes that conflict in some way, making it impossible for all of them to express themselves as encoded, or the inheritance of a set of related genes that interact with each other to express a phenotype.

Sometimes a gene interaction limits the production of certain proteins, often quite early in fetal development. In other cases, it can interfere with protein coding to result in garbled expression of a physical trait. Hybrids often show a variety of interesting results of gene interactions. In some cases, the interactions are beneficial and can develop into one’s genetic traits, while in others, the gene interaction can create a disadvantage and those traits will eventually die out.

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