Julian's Science Experiments
  • Famous Experiments and Inventions
  • The Scientific Method
  • Home Biochemistry Experiments Biochemistry Science Fair Projects Resources Books Biology Jokes Warning!

    K-12 Experiments and Background Infomation
    For Science Labs, Lesson Plans, Class Activities & Science Fair Projects
    For Middle and High School Students & Teachers

    Gene Experiments

    Gene Background Information


    A gene is the basic unit of heredity in a living organism and determines a particular trait or function in an organism.


    Genes are formed of DNA. DNA is a collection of chemical information that carries the instructions for making all the proteins a cell will ever need. Each gene contains a single set of instructions. These instructions usually code for a particular protein. Half of a person's genes come from the mother. The other half come from the father.

    Genes are passed on from parent to child and are an important part of what decides how children look and act (their biological properties). Genes affect the way our bodies work, including how we look. Our eye, hair and skin color are decided by genes. It is said that genes cause genetic effects in our bodies.

    Sometimes, a gene is dominant. Sometimes, it is recessive. For example, let's say a mother only has genes for brown hair and a father only has genes for red hair. The child will inherit – receive – genes for red hair (from her father) and brown hair (from her mother). The brown hair gene is 'dominant' to the red hair gene. This means the child will have brown hair even though she has genes for both red and brown hair.

    A recessive trait might stay hidden for many generations. Let us use the child from the last example. We will call her "Mary". Mary has brown hair but has genes for both red and brown hair. Let us say Mary grew up and married Tom. Tom also has brown hair, but like Mary one of his parents had red hair. This means Tom has genes for both red and brown hair. Mary and Tom would each have a chance of passing either brown or red hair genes to their children. This means that the children of Mary and Tom could have either red or brown hair. This explains why a person might look different from their parents, but look like their grandparents or great grandparents.

    Topics of Interest

    A gene is the basic unit of heredity in a living organism. All living things depend on genes. Genes hold the information to build and maintain an organism's cells and pass genetic traits to offspring. A modern working definition of a gene is "a locatable region of genomic sequence, corresponding to a unit of inheritance, which is associated with regulatory regions, transcribed regions, and or other functional sequence regions ". Incorrect colloquial usage of the term gene may actually refer to an allele: a gene is the basic instruction, a sequence of DNA, while an allele is one variant of that instruction.

    The notion of a gene is evolving with the science of genetics, which began when Gregor Mendel noticed that biological variations are inherited from parent organisms as specific, discrete traits. The biological entity responsible for defining traits was termed a gene, but the biological basis for inheritance remained unknown until DNA was identified as the genetic material in the 1940s. All organisms have many genes corresponding to many different biological traits, some of which are immediately visible, such as eye color or number of limbs, and some of which are not, such as blood type or increased risk for specific diseases, or the thousands of basic biochemical processes that comprise life.

    In cells, a gene is a portion of DNA that contains both "coding" sequences that determine what the gene does, and "non-coding" sequences that determine when the gene is active (expressed). When a gene is active, the coding and non-coding sequences are copied in a process called transcription, producing an RNA copy of the gene's information. This piece of RNA can then direct the synthesis of proteins via the genetic code. In other cases, the RNA is used directly, for example as part of the ribosome.

    The molecules resulting from gene expression, whether RNA or protein, are known as gene products, and are responsible for the development and functioning of all living things. The physical development and phenotype of organisms can be thought of as a product of genes interacting with each other and with the environment. A concise definition of a gene, taking into account complex patterns of regulation and transcription, genic conservation and non-coding RNA genes, has been proposed by Gerstein et al. "A gene is a union of genomic sequences encoding a coherent set of potentially overlapping functional products".

    History of genetics: The existence of genes was first suggested by Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), who, in the 1860s, studied inheritance in peaplants (Pisum sativum) and hypothesized a factor that conveys traits from parent to offspring. He spent over 10 years of his life on one experiment. Although he did not use the term gene, he explained his results in terms of inherited characteristics. Mendel was also the first to hypothesize independent assortment, the distinction between dominant and recessive traits, the distinction between a heterozygote and homozygote, and the difference between what would later be described as genotype (the genetic material of an organism) and phenotype (the visible traits of that organism). Mendel's concept was given a name by Hugo de Vries in 1889, who, at that time probably unaware of Mendel's work, in his book Intracellular Pangenesis coined the term "pangen" for "the smallest particle [representing] one hereditary characteristic". Wilhelm Johannsen abbreviated this term to "gene" ("gen" in Danish and German) two decades later.

    In the early 1900s, Mendel's work received renewed attention from scientists. In 1910, Thomas Hunt Morgan showed that genes reside on specific chromosomes. He later showed that genes occupy specific locations on the chromosome. With this knowledge, Morgan and his students began the first chromosomal map of the fruit fly Drosophila. In 1928, Frederick Griffith showed that genes could be transferred. In what is now known as Griffith's experiment, injections into a mouse of a deadly strain of bacteria that had been heat-killed transferred genetic information to a safe strain of the same bacteria, killing the mouse.

    Mendelian inheritance (or Mendelian genetics or Mendelism) is a set of primary tenets relating to the transmission of hereditary characteristics from parent organisms to their offspring; it underlies much of genetics. They were initially derived from the work of Gregor Mendel published in 1865 and 1866 which was "re-discovered" in 1900, and were initially very controversial. When they were integrated with the chromosome theory of inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1915, they became the core of classical genetics.

    Classical genetics consists of the techniques and methodologies of genetics that predate the advent of molecular biology. A key discovery of classical genetics in eukaryotes was genetic linkage. The observation that some genes do not segregate independently at meiosis, broke the laws of Mendelian inheritance, and provided science with a way to map characteristics to a location on the chromosomes. Linkage maps are still used today, especially in breeding for plant improvement.

    Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product. These products are often proteins, but in non-protein coding genes such as rRNA genes or tRNA genes, the product is a functional RNA. The process of gene expression is used by all known life - eukaryotes (including multicellular organisms), prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) and viruses - to generate the macromolecular machinery for life. Several steps in the gene expression process may be modulated, including the transcription, RNA splicing, translation, and post-translational modification of a protein. Gene regulation gives the cell control over structure and function, and is the basis for cellular differentiation, morphogenesis and the versatility and adaptability of any organism. Gene regulation may also serve as a substrate for evolutionary change, since control of the timing, location, and amount of gene expression can have a profound effect on the functions (actions) of the gene in a cell or in a multicellular organism.

    The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material (DNA or RNA sequences) is translated into proteins (amino acid sequences) by living cells. The code defines a mapping between tri-nucleotide sequences, called codons, and amino acids. A triplet codon in a nucleic acid sequence usually specifies a single amino acid (though in some cases the same codon triplet in different locations can code unambiguously for two different amino acids, the correct choice at each location being determined by context). Because the vast majority of genes are encoded with exactly the same code, this particular code is often referred to as the canonical or standard genetic code, or simply the genetic code, though in fact there are many variant codes. Thus the canonical genetic code is not universal. For example, in humans, protein synthesis in mitochondria relies on a genetic code that varies from the canonical code.

    Mutations are changes in the DNA sequence of a cell's genome and are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic chemicals, as well as errors that occur during meiosis or DNA replication. They can also be induced by the organism itself, by cellular processes such as hypermutation.

    Mutation can result in several different types of change in DNA sequences; these can either have no effect, alter the product of a gene, or prevent the gene from functioning. Studies in the fly Drosophila melanogaster suggest that if a mutation changes a protein produced by a gene, this will probably be harmful, with about 70 percent of these mutations having damaging effects, and the remainder being either neutral or weakly beneficial. Due to the damaging effects that mutations can have on cells, organisms have evolved mechanisms such as DNA repair to remove mutations. Therefore, the optimal mutation rate for a species is a trade-off between costs of a high mutation rate, such as deleterious mutations, and the metabolic costs of maintaining systems to reduce the mutation rate, such as DNA repair enzymes. Viruses that use RNA as their genetic material have rapid mutation rates, which can be an advantage since these viruses will evolve constantly and rapidly, and thus evade the defensive responses of e.g. the human immune system.

    Gene targeting (also, replacement strategy based on homologous recombination) is a genetic technique that uses homologous recombination to change an endogenous gene. The method can be used to delete a gene, remove exons, add a gene, and introduce point mutations. Gene targeting can be permanent or conditional. Conditions can be a specific time during development / life of the organism or limitation to a specific tissue, for example. Gene targeting requires the creation of a specific vector for each gene of interest. However, it can be used for any gene, regardless of transcriptional activity or gene size.

    Gene therapy is the insertion of genes into an individual's cells and tissues to treat a disease, such as a hereditary disease in which a deleterious mutant allele is replaced with a functional one. Although the technology is still in its infancy, it has been used with some success. Scientific breakthroughs continue to move gene therapy towards mainstream medicine. Although controversial, some believe that with further scientific development, gene therapy may be ultimately able to allow human genetic modification towards a desired goal or enhancement.

    In modern molecular biology, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA.

    Pseudogenes are defunct relatives of known genes that have lost their protein-coding ability or are otherwise no longer expressed in the cell. Although some do not have introns or promoters (these pseudogenes are copied from mRNA and incorporated into the chromosome and are called processed pseudogenes), most have some gene-like features (such as promoters, CpG islands, and splice sites), they are nonetheless considered nonfunctional, due to their lack of protein-coding ability resulting from various genetic disablements (stop codons, frameshifts, or a lack of transcription) or their inability to encode RNA (such as with rRNA pseudogenes). Thus the term, coined in 1977 by Jacq, et al., is composed of the prefix pseudo, which means false, and the root gene, which is the central unit of molecular genetics.

    A gene family is a set of genes with a known homology. They are generally biochemically similar. Genes are categorized this way into families, depending on shared nucleotide or protein sequences.

    Gene redundancy is the existence of several genes in the genome of an organism that perform the same role to some extent. This is the case for many sets of paralogous genes. When an individual gene in such a set is distrupted by mutation or targeted knockout, there can be little effect on phenotype as a result of gene redundancy, whereas the effect is large for double or triple gene knockouts.

    The gene-centered view of evolution, gene selection theory or selfish gene theory holds that natural selection acts through differential survival of competing genes, increasing the frequency of those alleles whose phenotypic effects successfully promote their own propagation. According to this theory, adaptations are the phenotypic effects through which genes achieve their propagation.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

    Useful Links
    Biochemistry Resources
    Biochemistry and Cell Biology Science Fair Projects and Experiments
    General Science Fair Projects Resources
    Biology / Biochemistry Science Fair Projects Books


    My Dog Kelly

    Follow Us On:

    Privacy Policy - Site Map - About Us - Letters to the Editor

    Comments and inquiries could be addressed to:

    Last updated: June 2013
    Copyright © 2003-2013 Julian Rubin