KEY FACTS
  • Genes are sections of DNA which contain coded information for making polypeptides. These make the proteins that determine the characteristics of organisms.
  • Chromosomes contain one very long molecule of DNA. Each molecule carries many genes

In body cells (somatic), chromosomes occur in homologous pairs. Each pair consists of a copy of one maternal and one paternal chromosome.

  • Genes that code for the same polypeptide occupy the same relative position on homologous chromosomes. This position is called the gene locus.
  • Genes can have different forms, called alleles. The coded information in alleles differs, so the polypeptides they code for also differ.
  • DNA molecules consist of two polynucleotide strands linked together
  • The sequence of bases in the nucleotides enable the DNA to store information.
  • The double-stranded structure of DNA and the way in which the bases pair up enable this stored information to be copied precisely and with a high degree of accuracy.
  • The large size of the DNA molecules allows a great deal of information to be held in one molecule. This makes it easier to ensure that all the information is passed from generation to generation.
  • DNA replicates by a semi-conservative mechanism, which means that half of each new molecule comes from the original molecule.
  • The DNA of a gene is not used to make polypeptides in the nucleus because this would be too slow a process. Instead, RNA copies of the gene's code are made.
  • Several RNA copies of the coded information contained in a stretch of DNA can be made at the same time. This enables polypeptide products to be produced rapidly
  • One strand of the gene's DNA is used to make many copies of messenger RNA, which have a matching code. This process is transcription.
  • The mRNA passes out of the nucleus and attaches to ribosomes in the endoplasmic reticulum.
  • The endoplasmic reticulum has a plentiful supply of transfer RNA molecules that are attached to specific amino acids. The tRNA molecules have anticodons that recognise and bind to the corresponding mRNA codon.
  • As the mRNA moves through a ribosome, the amino acids carried by the tRNA are combined in the correct sequence to form the polypeptide. This process is translation.
  • The polypeptides formed can then be used to make a specific protein, which may be, for example, an enzyme, a membrane protein or a structural protein.
  • A gene mutation occurs when there is a change in the sequence of bases in the DNA of a gene. Bases may be added, deleted or substituted. Segments of DNA may be inverted or duplicated.
  • A mutation produces a change in the DNA codons and is likely to result in a polypeptide with a different amino acid sequence.
  • Change in polypeptide structure may alter the way the protein functions. As a result of mutation, enzymes may function less efficiently or not at all, causing a metabolic block to occur in a metabolic pathway.
  • New alleles arise from mutations in existing alleles.
  • Mutations in reproductive cells can be passed on to following generations, but mutations in body cells will only affect the tissues in which they occur.
  • Mutations occur naturally at random, but the rate of mutation is increased by mutagens such as radiation and some organic chemicals.
  • Asexual reproduction is a form of reproduction in which a single parent organism produces offspring by simple division or by splitting off a part of itself.
  • Clones are genetically identical organisms. The offspring of plants and other organisms that reproduce asexually are clones.
  • Mitosis is a type of cell division. When body cells divide to increase their number, or an organism reproduces asexually, cell division occurs by mitosis.
  • The cell's DNA is replicated in mitosis and each new cell produced receives an exact copy of the DNA in the parent cell.
  • Replication of the DNA in the chromosomes occurs during interphase before the chromosomes contract and become visible in the nucleus.
  • Replication produces two identical chromatids from each chromosome. The chromatids are separated during mitosis in a process that guarantees that each daughter nucleus has one of each pair.
  • Some flowering plants, such as potato plants, reproduce asexually and produce natural clones. This is called vegetative propagation. Growers can maintain varieties of plants that have useful characteristics by growing them only from asexually produced structures.
  • Plants that do not naturally undergo vegetative reproduction can be propagated artificially by taking cuttings and making grafts.
  • Mammals do not reproduce asexually. They can be cloned artificially by splitting apart the cells of developing embryos. Recently techniques have been developed which make it possible to clone mammals from cells in older tissues.
  • Sexual reproduction involves the fusion of the nuclei of two gametes. Ova and sperms are the female and male gametes in mammals.
  • In sexual reproduction DNA from one generation is passed to the next by gametes.
  • Sexual reproduction combines genes from two organisms. Gametes are produced by meiosis. In this type of cell division each of the cells formed contains only one of each pair of homologous chromosomes, and therefore only one copy of each gene.
  • Cells with only one chromosome from each pair are called haploid; cells with pairs of homologous chromosomes are diploid.
  • In most organisms gametes are haploid while body cells are diploid.
  • Formation of gametes by meiosis, followed by fertilisation, maintains a constant chromosome number from generation to generation.
  • After the ovum is released from the ovary, it moves slowly along the oviduct. The sperms, which have limited energy stores because of their tiny cytoplasm, must swim up the oviduct to reach and fertilise the ovum. Many sperms fail to complete the journey.
  • Mammalian sperms release digestive enzymes that break down the coating of the ovum and allow one sperm to reach and penetrate its membrane.
  • Fertilisation is fusion of the nuclei of male and female gametes. It produces a diploid zygote.
  • In most organisms there is a clear difference between male and female gametes. Male gametes are smaller than female gametes, produced in much larger numbers and are motile. In mammals, ova have cytoplasm that contains nutrient reserves.
  • The main advantage of sexual reproduction is the creation of variation in the offspring.
  • Variation in a species provides a significant survival advantage. When environmental conditions change, it is more likely that there will be some individuals that are adapted to the changed conditions, and so the species will not be wiped out.
  • Some species include both asexual and sexual reproduction in their life cycle. This has the advantage that they can reproduce and spread rapidly in the asexual stage and introduce variation in the sexual stage.
  • In genetic engineering genes are removed from one organism and inserted into another. Genes that code for useful substances, such as hormones, enzymes and antibiotics, are often transferred into micro-organisms, which then produce large quantities of these substances.
  • A gene is isolated from the DNA of the donor organism using a restriction endonuclease enzyme. This cuts out the relevant section of the organism's DNA, leaving sticky ends that will enable the gene to be inserted into a small circular piece of bacterial DNA called a plasmid.
  • Plasmids are often used as vectors to incorporate the selected gene into bacterial cells. Plasmids occur naturally in cells and replicate independently of the main bacterial DNA.
  • The same restriction endonuclease is used to cut the plasmid. This leaves complementary sticky ends to which the selected gene can be attached by another enzyme, ligase.
  • The plasmids are then introduced into the bacteria, and transformed cells are selected and cloned.
  • Genetic markers in the plasmids, such as genes that confer antibiotic resistance, enable genetic engineers to identify bacteria that have successfully taken up the selected gene.
  • Transformed bacteria are cultured on a large scale in industrial fermenters and the useful product is then extracted.
  • DNA can be replicated artificially by the polymerase chain reaction. The enzyme DNA polymerase is used to make new double stranded DNA by synthesising a new complementary strand to a pre-existing strand, just as in natural replication.
  • PCR is an amplification reaction that is self sustaining which makes it possible to synthesise large numbers of copies of very small samples of DNA.
  • DNA fragments can be separated by gel electrophoresis. A voltage is applied to the gel and the negatively charged DNA fragments move towards the positive electrode. Smaller fragments move faster than large ones.
  • The bands of DNA can be seen if radioactive nucleotides are used in the PCR. The pattern of banding in the gel can be made visible by placing the gel next to a sheet of unexposed photographic film overnight. the radioactive bands cause the film to turn black.
  • Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder caused by a mutant allele that produces a defective form of the channel protein, called CFTR. This protein normally transports chloride ions out of the cells.
  • The defective CFTR protein causes chloride ions to build up in the cells. This causes those cells to retain water. In the lungs and intestines this is a particular problem. Water fails to pass into the mucus that lines the airways and gut, causing the mucus to become thick and sticky. In the lungs, this leads to breathing difficulties and the risk of infection; in the gut, the mucus blocks the ducts that carry digestive enzymes.
  • Some severe genetic disorders can be treated by gene therapy. Healthy genes are cloned and then transferred to target cells in the body to take over the function of defective genes that cause the disorder.
  • Two forms of gene therapy are being developed to treat cystic fibrosis. In the first, healthy CFTR genes are inserted into liposomes, which fuse with the cell membranes and take the genes into the cells. In the other, harmless viruses are used to insert the CFTR genes into the cells.
  • Animals can be genetically modified to produce substances that are useful for treating human diseases. Animals that have been given a gene from another species are called transgenic organisms.
  • The human gene that codes for the required protein is isolated from the human cells and is then injected into the fertilised egg from the animal.
  • The tiny embryos that develop are placed in the womb of surrogate mothers, which later give birth to young that carry the human gene in their cells.
  • Transgenic sheep are used to produce alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT), a protein that is used to treat emphysema in people who have a mutation in their AAT gene. The sheep secrete the AAT in their milk.