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It has been suggested that [[::dominant gene|dominant gene]] be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
It has been suggested that [[::dominant allele|dominant allele]] be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
It has been suggested that [[::autosomal dominant|autosomal dominant]] be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
It has been suggested that [[::recessive allele|recessive allele]] be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
For other non-genetic uses of the term "dominance", see Dominance.

In genetics, dominance relationships control whether an offspring will inherit a characteristic from the father, the mother, or some blend of both. More technically, they control the ways genes interact to express themselves as phenotypes in a diploid or polyploid individual.

There are three kinds of dominance relationships:

  • Simple dominance
  • Incomplete dominance
  • Co-dominance

Traits inherited in a dominant-recessive pattern are often said to "follow Mendelian inheritance".

Chromosome redundancy

The dominant/recessive relationship is made possible by the fact that most higher organisms are diploid: that is, most of their cells have two copies of each chromosome -- one copy from each parent. Polyploid organisms have more than two copies of each chromosome, and follow similar rules of dominance, but for simplicity will not be discussed here.

Humans, a diploid species, typically have 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. In regular reproduction, half come from the mother, and half come from the father (see meiosis for further discussion of how this happens, and chromosome for less usual possibilities in humans or in cows).

Relationship to other genetics concepts

Although humans have only 46 chromosomes, it is estimated that those 46 contain 20,000-25,000 genes, each of which is related to some biological trait of the organism. Many genes are strung together in a single chromosome. The other chromosome of the pair will have genes for the same functions -- for example, to control height, eye colour, and hair colour.

However, since one chromosome came from each parent, it is quite unlikely that the genes will be identical. The specific variations possible for a single gene are called alleles: for a single eye-colour gene, there may be a blue eye allele, a brown eye allele, a green eye allele, etc. Consequently, a child may inherit a blue eye allele from their mother and a brown eye allele from their father. The dominance relationships between the alleles control which traits are and are not expressed.

Simple dominance

Consider the simple example of the dominant brown eye allele and the recessive blue eye allele. In a given individual, the two corresponding alleles of the chromosome pair fall into one of three patterns:

  • both blue
  • both brown
  • one brown and one blue

If the two alleles are the same (homozygous), the trait they represent will be expressed. But if the individual carries one of each allele (heterozygous), only the dominant one will be expressed. The recessive allele will simply be suppressed.

Latent recessive traits appearing in later generations

It is important to note that an individual showing the dominant trait may have children who display the recessive trait. If a brown-eyed parent is homozygous, they will always pass on the dominant trait, and therefore their children will always have brown eyes, regardless of the contribution of the other parent. However, if that brown-eyed parent is heterozygous (and they typically would have no way of knowing), they will have a 50/50 chance of passing on the suppressed blue-eyed trait to their offspring.

It is therefore quite possible for two parents with brown eyes to have a blue-eyed child. In that situation, we can conclude that both parents were heterozygous (carrying the recessive allele).

However, unless there is a spontaneous genetic mutation, it is not possible for two parents with blue eyes to have a brown eyed child. Since blue eyes are recessive, both parents must have only blue-eyed alleles to pass on.

Punnett square

Main article: Punnett square

The genetic combinations possible with simple dominance can be expressed by a diagram called a Punnett square. One parent's alleles are listed across the top and the other parent's alleles are listed down the left side. The interior squares represent possible offspring, in the ratio of their statistical probability. In this example, B represents the dominant brown-eye gene and b the recessive blue-eye gene. If both parents are brown-eyed and heterozygous, it would look like this:

bb Bb b

In the BB and Bb cases, the child has brown eyes due to the dominant B. Only in the bb case does the recessive blue-eye trait express itself in the blue-eye phenotype. In this fictional case, the couple's children are three times as likely to have brown eyes as blue.

Traits governed by simple dominance

(not an exhaustive list)

Curled Up Nose Roman Nose
Clockwise Hair Whorl Counter-clockwise Hair Whorl
Can Roll Tongue Can't Roll Tongue
Widow's Peak No Widow's Peak
Facial Dimples No Facial Dimples
Able to taste PTC Unable to taste PTC
Earlobe hangs Earlobe attaches at base
Middigital hair (fingers) No middigital hair
No hitchhiker's thumb Hitchhiker's thumb
Tip of pinkie bends in Pinkie straight

Some genetic diseases carried by dominant and recessive alleles

Main article: Genetic disorder
DiseaseGene is...
Marfan syndromedominant
Some types of Dwarfismrecessive
Tay-Sachs diseaserecessive

As can be seen from this, dominant alleles are not necessarily more common or more desirable.

Incomplete dominance

In incomplete dominance (sometimes called partial dominance), a heterozygous genotype creates an intermediate phenotype. In this case, both the dominant and recessive gene are expressed, creating a blended or combined phenotype. A cross of two intermediate phenotypes can result in the reappearance of either the parent phenotypes or the blended phenotypes.

The classic example of this is the colours of carnations.

R R'
R' RR' R'R'

R is the gene for red pigment. R' is the gene for no pigment.

Thus, RR offspring make a lot of red pigment and appear red. R'R' offspring make no red pigment and appear white. RR' and R'R offspring make a little bit of red pigment and therefore appear pink.

An example of incomplete dominance in humans is mordan, a trait that is exhibited when eye color alleles from the maternal and paternal chromosomes are blended. This usually occurs when one parent has green eyes and the other parent has brown eyes–the child will have dark blue eyes.


In co-dominance, neither phenotype is dominant. Instead, the individual expresses BOTH phenotypes. The most important example is in Landsteiner blood types. The gene for blood types has three alleles: A, B, and i. i causes O type and is recessive to both A and B. When a person has both A and B, they have type AB blood.

Another example involves cattle. If a homozygous bull and homozygous cow mate (one being red and the other white), then the calves produced will be roan-colored, with a mix of red and white hairs.

Example Punnett square for a father with A and i, and a mother with B and i:


Amongst the very few co-dominant genetic diseases in humans, one relatively common one is A1AD, in which the genotypes Pi00, PiZ0, PiZZ, and PiSZ all have their more-or-less characteristic clinical representations.

Most molecular markers are considered to be co-dominant.

Other factors

It is important to note that most genetic traits are not simply controlled by a single set of alleles. Often many alleles, each with their own dominance relationships, contribute in varying ways to complex traits.

See also

The development of phenotype
Key concepts: Genotype-phenotype distinction | Norms of reaction | Gene-environment interaction | Heritability | Quantitative genetics
Genetic architecture: Dominance relationship | Epistasis | Polygenic inheritance | Pleiotropy | Plasticity | Canalisation | Fitness landscape
Non-genetic influences: Epigenetic inheritance | Epigenetics | Maternal effect | dual inheritance theory
Developmental architecture: Segmentation | Modularity
Evolution of genetic systems: Evolvability | Mutational robustness | Evolution of sex
Influential figures: C. H. Waddington | Richard Lewontin
Debates: Nature versus nurture
List of evolutionary biology topics

References & Bibliography

Key texts



Additional material



External links

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