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Genetic linkage occurs when particular alleles are inherited together. Typically, an organism can pass on an allele without regard to which allele was passed on for a different gene. This is because chromosomes are sorted randomly during meiosis. However, alleles that are on the same chromosome are more likely to be inherited together, and are said to be linked.
Because there is some crossing over of DNA when the chromosomes segregate, alleles on the same chromosome can be separated and go to different cells. There is a greater probability of this happening if the alleles are far apart on the chromosome, as it is more likely that a cross-over will occur between them.
The physical distance between two genes can be calculated using the offspring of an organism showing two linked genetic traits, and finding the percentage of the offspring where the two traits don't run together. The higher the percentage of descendence that doesn't show both traits, the further apart on the chromosome they are.
A study of the linkages between many genes enables the creation of a linkage map or genetic map.
Among individuals of an experimental population or species, some phenotypes or traits occur randomly with respect to one another in a manner known as independent assortment. Today scientists understand that independent assortment occurs when the genes affecting the phenotypes are found on different chromosomes.
An exception to independent assortment develops when genes appear near one another on the same chromosome. When genes occur on the same chromosome, they are usually inherited as a single unit. Genes inherited in this way are said to be linked. For example, in fruit flies the genes affecting eye color and wing length are inherited together because they appear on the same chromosome.
But in many cases, even genes on the same chromosome that are inherited together produce offspring with unexpected allele combinations. This results from a process called crossing over. Sometimes at the beginning of meiosis, a chromosome pair (made up of a chromosome from the mother and a chromosome from the father) may intertwine and exchange sections or fragments of chromosome. The pair then breaks apart to form two chromosomes with a new combination of genes that differs from the combination supplied by the parents. Through this process of recombining genes, organisms can produce offspring with new combinations of maternal and paternal traits that may contribute to or enhance survival.
The observations by Thomas Hunt Morgan that the amount of crossing over between linked genes differs led to the idea that crossover frequency might indicate the distance separating genes on the chromosome. Morgan's student Alfred Sturtevant developed the first genetic map, also called a linkage map.
Sturtevant proposed that the greater the distance between linked genes, the greater the chance that non-sister chromatids would cross over in the region between the genes. By working out the number of recombinants it is possible to obtain a measure for the distance between the genes. This distance is called a genetic map unit (m.u.), or a centimorgan and is defined as the distance between genes for which one product of meiosis in 100 is recombinant. A recombinant frequency (RF) of 1 % is equivalent to 1 m.u. A linkage map is created by finding the map distances between a number of traits that are present on the same chromosome, ideally avoiding having significant gaps between traits to avoid the inaccuracies that will occur due to the possibility of multiple recombination events.
Linkage mapping is critical for identifying the location of genes that cause genetic diseases. In a normal population, genetic traits and markers will occur in all possible combinations with the frequencies of combinations determined by the frequencies of the individual genes. For example, if alleles A and a occur with frequency 90% and 10%, and alleles B and b at a different genetic locus occur with frequencies 70% and 30%, the frequency of individuals having the combination AB would be 63%, the product of the frequencies of A and B, regardless of how close together the genes are. However, if a mutation in gene B that causes some disease happened recently in a particular subpopulation, it almost always occurs with a particur allele of gene A if the individual in which the mutation occurred had that variant of gene A and there have not been sufficient generations for recombination to happen between them (presumably due to tight linkage on the genetic map). In this case, called linkage disequilibrium, it is possible to search potential markers in the subpopulation and identify which marker the mutation is close to, thus determining the mutation's location on the map and identifying the gene at which the mutation occurred. Once the gene has been identified, it can be targeted to identify ways to mitigate the disease.
A linkage map is a chromosome map of a species or experimental population that shows the position of its known genes and/or markers relative to each other, rather than as specific physical points on each chromosome.
A genetic map is a map based on the frequencies of recombination between markers during crossover of homologous chromosomes. The greater the frequency of recombination (segregation) between two genetic markers, the farther apart they are assumed to be. Conversely, the higher the frequency of association between the markers, the smaller the physical distance between them. Historically, the markers originally used were detectable phenotypes (enzyme production, eye color) derived from coding DNA sequences; eventually, confirmed or assumed noncoding DNA sequences such as microsatellites or those generating RFLPs have been used.
Genetic maps help researchers to locate other markers, such as other genes by testing for genetic linkage of the already known markers.
A genetic map is not a gene map.
In practice, linkage is declared if the LOD score is greater than 3 (i.e. the likelihood of observing the result if the two loci are not linked is less than 1 in 1000).
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