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Independent Assortment & Probability

The pigeon parents on the right can produce offspring with 16 possible combinations of sex
chromosomes and crest alleles.
The probability of an offspring being a non-crested male is 4/16, which can be simplified to 1/4 or 25%.
How did we come up with these numbers?
The calculations are actually very simple, as long as you understand a little about independent
assortment and probability.

INHERITANCE OF SEX CHROMOSOMES

The idea behind independent assortment is that genes are inherited independently of one another. In
other words, the genetic factors that control crest and sex are physically separate. Because the genetic
factors are physically separate, they segregate independently during gamete (egg and sperm) formation.

Lets walk through this process, first with sex.


Each pigeon parent has two sex chromosomes. During gamete formation, each egg or sperm gets just
one sex chromosome. So when a male bird (with two Z chromosomes) makes sperm, some sperm get
one of the Z chromosomes and some get the other. And when a female bird (with one Z and one W
chromosome) makes eggs, some get Z and others get W.
The Punnett square shows what happens when these gametes get together to make offspring. As you
can see, there are 4 possible combinations2 male and 2 female.
INHERITANCE OF CREST
The same principle applies to the inheritance of crest. Each pigeon parent has two copies, or alleles, of
the crest gene. The two copies can be the same, or they can be different.
Each gamete gets just one crest allele. Half of the gametes will get one of the parents alleles, and the
other half will get the other allele.
The Punnett square shows the possible crest allele combinations in the offspring. There are 4 possible
combinations in all. 2 of the possible combinations make crested offspring, and the other 2 make noncrested offspring.
In the squares, the allele combination (e.g., crest and no crest, shown with icons) is the genotype, and
the physical appearance (e.g. non-crested) is the phenotype.

INDEPENDENT INHERITANCE OF SEX AND CREST

Now lets apply the rules of independent


assortment and look at the inheritance of sex and
crest together.
During gamete formation, each egg or sperm gets
one sex chromosome and one crest allele.
Remember, the genetic factors that control sex and
crest are physically separate from one another, so
they segregate independently during gamete
formation. That means each parent can make
gametes with 4 possible sex
chromosome / crestallele combinations.
The Punnett square shows what happens when
these gametes get together to make offspring. As
you can see, there are 16 possible combinations.
However, many of these combinations are identical
at the genotype and phenotype level. For example,
as was mentioned at the top of the page, 4 of the
16 are crested males.
Punnett squares are useful for showing where the
alleles came from to make the possible allele
combinations. But with crosses that involve
increasing numbers of genes, they become
awkward and not very useful. Imagine plotting a
Punnett square of a cross involving sex, crest, and
pattern. Each parent would have 8 possible gametes, and there would be 64 possible offspring!
There is an easier way to calculate the numbers.
In female birds (and male mammals), sex-linkedgenes (like color) do not segregate independently.
Genetically linked genes also do not segregate independently. This is true in both males and females.
CALCULATING PROBABILITY USING FRACTIONS
Using multiplication, we can calculate (1) the number of possible allele combinations for a given cross,
and (2) the probability of an offspring having a particular allele combination.
1. First, well apply math to the sex chromosome example. Heres the math for calculating the number of
possible combinations:

The father can make sperm with 2 possible sex chromosomes: Z or the other Z.

The mother can make eggs with 2 possible sex chromosomes: Z or W.

Multiplying these numbers together gives us 4 possible offspring.


2. Heres how to calculate the probability of the parents making a female offspring:

In the father, 2 of the 2 possible sex chromosomes (Z or Z) will contribute to making a female
offspring.

In the mother, 1 of the 2 possible sex chromosomes (just W) will contribute to making a female
offspring.
Notice that the denominator also tells you the number of possible combinations. To see where these
numbers came from and to check the calculation, you can look back at the first Punnet square near the
top of the page.

3. We can also add crest to our calculations. Well jump


straight to the probability calculation, since we know that will
also tell us the number of possible combinations.
a. To make a non-crested male, the father must
contribute a Z chromosome and a crest allele. 2
out of the 2 possible sex chromosomes will give us
what we need. And 2 out of the 2 possible crest
alleles will give us the desired offspring. Multiplying
those numbers, we get 4 out of 4. Out of the 4
possible allele combinations in the sperm
(denominator), 4 will be Z + crest (numerator).
b. The mother must contribute a Z chromosome and
a no crest allele. Just 1 out of the 2 possible sex
chromosomes will give us what we need. Likewise,
just 1 out of the 2 possible crest alleles will give us
the desired offspring. Multiplying those numbers, we
get 1 out of 4. Out of the 4 possible allele
combinations in the egg, 1 will be Z + no crest.
c. To get our final number, we multiple the gamete
fractions together. Out of 16 possible allele
combinations in the offspring, 4 will be non-crested
males (ZZ and crest no crest). Our Punnett square
above gave us the same values.
Calculate these values for more-complex problems is simply
a matter of adding another fraction to the multiplication
problem.