Heredity and Variation: Genes in Action

Science Objects are two hour on-line interactive inquiry-based content modules that help teachers better understand the science content they teach. This Science Object is the second of three Science Objects in the Heredity and Variation SciPack. It explores sexual reproduction and the process of meiosis.

We now know that structures and functions at the molecular and cellular levels provide the mechanism for reproduction and the continuity of species. Instructions for development are passed from parents to offspring in thousands of discrete genes, each of which is a segment of a molecule of DNA. An organism’s particular genetic information, coded in its DNA (genotype), contains genes that provide the information necessary to assemble proteins. Offspring of asexual organisms inherit all of the parent's genes. In organisms that reproduce sexually, specialized female and male sex cells (gametes) are formed during a process of cell division called meiosis. Each of these sex cells contains a random half of the parent's genetic information.

When a particular male gamete fuses with a particular female gamete during fertilization, they form a cell with one complete set of paired chromosomes, a combination of one half-set from each parent. This random combining of gametes and their chromosomes during fertilization results in millions of different possible combinations of genes, which causes the offspring genotypes to vary from their parents’. Some of the new gene combinations make little difference in the ability of the offspring to reproduce or survive, some can produce organisms with capabilities that enhance their ability to survive and reproduce, and some can be deleterious, resulting in an inability to survive and/or reproduce. Learning Outcomes:
  • Distinguish among the following structures by describing their relationship to one another: DNA, chromosomes, genes, and alleles.
  • Describe the role genes play in the production of proteins and defining the phenotype of an organism.
  • Compare and contrast the DNA in cells produced during asexual reproduction versus the DNA in gametes produced during meiosis.
  • Indentify and describe those steps within the process of meiosis that explain the random distribution of genotypes among offspring resulting from sexual reproduction.
  • Explain how the recombination of the allele pairs for individual genes during sexual reproduction results in phenotypic variation among offspring.


Elementary SchoolMiddle SchoolHigh School


Type Science Object

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