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12.5 Laws of Inheritance

Law of Segregation

Observing that true-breeding pea plants with contrasting traits gave rise to F1 generations that all expressed the dominant trait and F2 generations that expressed the dominant and recessive traits in a 3:1 ratio, Mendel proposed the law of segregation. This law states that paired unit factors (genes) must segregate equally into gametes such that offspring have an equal likelihood of inheriting either factor. For the F2 generation of a monohybrid cross, the following three possible combinations of genotypes result: homozygous dominant, heterozygous, or homozygous recessive. Because heterozygotes could arise from two different pathways (receiving one dominant and one recessive allele from either parent), and because heterozygotes and homozygous dominant individuals are phenotypically identical, the law supports Mendel’s observed 3:1 phenotypic ratio. The equal segregation of alleles is the reason we can apply the Punnett square to accurately predict the offspring of parents with known genotypes. The physical basis of Mendel’s law of segregation is the first division of meiosis in which the homologous chromosomes with their different versions of each gene are segregated into daughter nuclei. This process was not understood by the scientific community during Mendel’s lifetime (Figure 8).


Figure 8: The first division in meiosis is shown.

Test Cross

Beyond predicting the offspring of a cross between known homozygous or heterozygous parents, Mendel also developed a way to determine whether an organism that expressed a dominant trait was a heterozygote or a homozygote. Called the test cross, this technique is still used by plant and animal breeders. In a test cross, the dominant-expressing organism is crossed with an organism that is homozygous recessive for the same characteristic. If the dominant-expressing organism is a homozygote, then all F1 offspring will be heterozygotes expressing the dominant trait (Figure 9). Alternatively, if the dominant-expressing organism is a heterozygote, the F1 offspring will exhibit a 1:1 ratio of heterozygotes and recessive homozygotes (Figure 9). The test cross further validates Mendel’s postulate that pairs of unit factors segregate equally.


Figure 9: A test cross can be performed to determine whether an organism expressing a dominant trait is a homozygote or a heterozygote.

Law of Independent Assortment

Mendel’s law of independent assortment states that genes do not influence each other with regard to the sorting of alleles into gametes, and every possible combination of alleles for every gene is equally likely to occur. Independent assortment of genes can be illustrated by the dihybrid cross, a cross between two true-breeding parents that express different traits for two characteristics. Consider the characteristics of seed color and seed texture for two pea plants, one that has wrinkled, green seeds (rryy) and another that has round, yellow seeds (RRYY). Because each parent is homozygous, the law of segregation indicates that the gametes for the wrinkled–green plant all are ry, and the gametes for the round–yellow plant are all RY. Therefore, the F1 generation of offspring all are RrYy (Figure 10).


Figure 10: A dihybrid cross in pea plants involves the genes for seed color and texture. The P cross produces F1 offspring that are all heterozygous for both characteristics. The resulting 9:3:3:1 F2 phenotypic ratio is obtained using a Punnett square.

The gametes produced by the F1 individuals must have one allele from each of the two genes. For example, a gamete could get an R allele for the seed shape gene and either a Y or a y allele for the seed color gene. It cannot get both an R and an r allele; each gamete can have only one allele per gene. The law of independent assortment states that a gamete into which an r allele is sorted would be equally likely to contain either a Y or a y allele. Thus, there are four equally likely gametes that can be formed when the RrYy heterozygote is self-crossed, as follows: RY, rY, Ry, and ry. Arranging these gametes along the top and left of a 4 × 4 Punnett square (Figure 10) gives us 16 equally likely genotypic combinations. From these genotypes, we find a phenotypic ratio of 9 round–yellow:3 round–green:3 wrinkled–yellow:1 wrinkled–green (Figure 10). These are the offspring ratios we would expect, assuming we performed the crosses with a large enough sample size.

The physical basis for the law of independent assortment also lies in meiosis I, in which the different homologous pairs line up in random orientations. Each gamete can contain any combination of paternal and maternal chromosomes (and therefore the genes on them) because the orientation of tetrads on the metaphase plane is random (Figure 11).


Figure 11: The random segregation into daughter nuclei that happens during the first division in meiosis can lead to a variety of possible genetic arrangements.


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OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. May 27, 2016 http://cnx.org/contents/GFy_h8cu@10.57:cUeevuaC@3/Laws-of-Inheritance


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12.5 Laws of Inheritance by Lisa Bartee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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