Introduction to genetics
Genetics is the study of genes — what they are, what they do, and how they work. Genes are made up of molecules inside the nucleus of a cell that are strung together in such a way that the sequence carries information: that information determines how living organisms inherit phenotypic traits, (features) determined by the genes they received from their parents and thereby going back through the generations. For example, offspring produced by sexual reproduction usually look similar to each of their parents because they have inherited some of each of their parents' genes. Genetics identifies which features are inherited, and explains how these features pass from generation to generation. In addition to inheritance, genetics studies how genes are turned on and off to control what substances are made in a cell - gene expression; and how a cell divides - mitosis or meiosis.Some phenotypic traits can be seen, such as eye color while others can only be detected, such as blood type or intelligence. Traits determined by genes can be modified by the animal's surroundings (environment): for example, the general design of a tiger's stripes is inherited, but the specific stripe pattern is determined by the tiger's surroundings. Another example is a person's height: it is determined by both genetics and nutrition.Genes are made of DNA, which is divided into separate pieces called chromosomes. Humans have 46: 23 pairs, though this number varies between species, for example many primates have 24 pairs. Meiosis creates special cells, sperm in males and eggs in females, which only have 23 chromosomes. These two cells merge into one during the fertilization stage of sexual reproduction, creating a zygote in which a nucleic acid double helix divides, with each single helix occupying one of the daughter cells, resulting in half the normal number of genes. The zygote then divides into four daughter cells by which time genetic recombination has created a new embryo with 23 pairs of chromosomes, half from each parent. Mating and resultant mate choice result in sexual selection. In normal cell division (mitosis) is possible when the double helix separates, and a complement of each separated half is made, resulting in two identical double helices in one cell, with each occupying one of the two new daughter cells created when the cell divides.Chromosomes all contain four nucleotides, abbreviated C (cytosine), G (guanine), A (adenine), or T (thymine), which line up in a particular sequence and make a long string. There are two strings of nucleotides coiled around one another in each chromosome: a double helix. C on one string is always opposite from G on the other string; A is always opposite T. There are about 3.2 billion nucleotide pairs on all the human chromosomes: this is the human genome. The order of the nucleotides carries genetic information, whose rules are defined by the genetic code, similar to how the order of letters on a page of text carries information. Three nucleotides in a row - a triplet - carry one unit of information: a codon. The genetic code not only controls inheritance: it also controls gene expression, which occurs when a portion of the double helix is uncoiled, exposing a series of the nucleotides, which are within the interior of the DNA. This series of exposed triplets (codons) carries the information to allow machinery in the cell to ""read"" the codons on the exposed DNA, which results in the making of RNA molecules. RNA in turn makes either amino acids or microRNA, which are responsible for all of the structure and function of a living organism; i.e. they determine all the features of the cell and thus the entire individual. Closing the uncoiled segment turns off the gene. Heritability means the information in a given gene is not always exactly the same in every individual in that species, so the same gene in different individuals does not give exactly the same instructions. Each unique form of a single gene is called an allele; different forms are collectively called polymorphisms. As an example, one allele for the gene for hair color and skin cell pigmentation could instruct the body to produce black pigment, producing black hair and pigmented skin; while a different allele of the same gene in a different individual could give garbled instructions that would result in a failure to produce any pigment, giving white hair and no pigmented skin: albinism. Mutations are random changes in genes creating new alleles, which in turn produce new traits, which could help, harm, or have no new effect on the individual's likelihood of survival; thus, mutations are the basis for evolution.