Phenotype: How a Gene Is Expressed As a Physical Trait

Legumes of different types displayed in groups on wooden slats
Cultura RM / Ray Knight / Getty Images

Phenotype is defined as an organism's expressed physical traits. Phenotype is determined by an individual's genotype and expressed genes, random genetic variation, and environmental influences.

Examples of an organism's phenotype include traits such as color, height, size, shape, and behavior. Phenotypes of legumes include pod color, pod shape, pod size, seed color, seed shape, and seed size.

Relationship Between Genotype and Phenotype

An organism's genotype determines its phenotype. All living organisms have DNA, which provides instructions for the production of molecules, cells, tissues, and organs. DNA contains the genetic code that is also responsible for the direction of all cellular functions including mitosis, DNA replication, protein synthesis, and molecule transportation. An organism's phenotype (physical traits and behaviors) are established by their inherited genes. Genes are certain segments of DNA that code for the production of proteins and determine distinct traits. Each gene is located on a chromosome and can exist in more than one form. These different forms are called alleles, which are positioned on specific locations on specific chromosomes. Alleles are transmitted from parents to offspring through sexual reproduction.

Diploid organisms inherit two alleles for each gene; one allele from each parent. Interactions between alleles determine an organism's phenotype. If an organism inherits two of the same alleles for a particular trait, it is homozygous for that trait. Homozygous individuals express one phenotype for a given trait. If an organism inherits two different alleles for a particular trait, it is heterozygous for that trait. Heterozygous individuals may express more than one phenotype for a given trait.

Traits can be dominant or recessive. In complete dominance inheritance patterns, the phenotype of the dominant trait will completely mask the phenotype of the recessive trait. There are also incidences when the relationships between different alleles don't exhibit complete dominance. In incomplete dominance, the dominant allele does not mask the other allele completely. This results in a phenotype that is a mixture of the phenotypes observed in both alleles. In co-dominace relationships, both alleles are fully expressed. This results in a phenotype in which both traits are independently observed.

Genetic Relationship Trait Alleles Genotype Phenotype
Complete Dominance Flower Color R - red, r - white Rr Red flower
Incomplete Dominance Flower Color R - red, r - white Rr Pink flower
Co-dominance Flower Color R - red, r - white Rr Red and white flower

Phenotype and Genetic Variation

Genetic variation can influence the phenotypes seen in a population. Genetic variation describes the gene changes of organisms in a population. These changes may be the result of DNA mutations. Mutations are changes in the gene sequences on DNA. Any change in the gene sequence can change the phenotype expressed in inherited alleles. Gene flow also contributes to genetic variation. When new organisms migrate into a population, new genes are introduced. The introduction of new alleles into the gene pool makes new gene combinations and different phenotypes possible. Different gene combinations are produced during meiosis. In meiosis, homologous chromosomes randomly segregate into different cells. Gene transfer may occur between homologous chromosomes through the process of crossing over. This recombining of genes can produce new phenotypes in a population.

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Bailey, Regina. "Phenotype: How a Gene Is Expressed As a Physical Trait." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Bailey, Regina. (2020, August 25). Phenotype: How a Gene Is Expressed As a Physical Trait. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "Phenotype: How a Gene Is Expressed As a Physical Trait." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).