The Genetic Effects of Radiation by Isaac Asimov is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post Series. The table of Links for this book can be found here. The Machinery of Inheritance: Parents and Offspring
How does the fertilized ovum obtain its particular set of chromosomes in the first place?
Each adult possesses gonads in which sex cells are formed. In the male, sperm cells are formed in the testes; in the female, egg cells are formed in the ovaries.
In the formation of the sperm cells and egg cells there is a key step—meiosis—a cell division in which the chromosomes group into pairs and are then apportioned between the daughter cells, one of each pair to each cell. Such a division, unaccompanied by replication, means that in place of the usual 23 pairs of chromosomes in each other cell, each sex cell has 23 individual chromosomes, a “half-set”, so to speak.
In the process of fertilization, a sperm cell from the father enters and merges with an egg cell from the mother. The fertilized ovum that results now has a full set of 23 pairs of chromosomes, but of each pair, one comes from the father and one from the mother.
In this way, each newborn child is a true individual, with its characteristics based on a random reshuffling of chromosomes. In forming the sex cells, the chromosome pairs can separate in either fashion (a into cell 1 and b into cell 2, or vice versa). If each of 23 pairs does this randomly, nearly 10 million different combinations of chromosomes are possible in the sex cells of a single individual.
Furthermore, one can’t predict which chromosome combination in the sperm cell will end up in combination with which in the egg cell, so that by this reasoning, a single married couple could produce children with any of 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) possible chromosome combinations.
It is this that begins to explain the endless variety among living beings, even within a particular species.
It only begins to explain it, because there are other sources of difference, too. A chromosome is capable of exchanging pieces with its pair, producing chromosomes with a brand new pattern of gene varieties. Before such a crossover, one chromosome may have carried a gene for blue eyes and one for wavy hair, while the other chromosome may have carried a gene for brown eyes and one for straight hair. After the crossover, one would carry genes for blue eyes and straight hair, the other for brown eyes and wavy hair.
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This book is part of the public domain. Asimov, Isaac. (October 13, 2017). THE GENETIC EFFECTS OF RADIATION. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55738/55738-h/55738-h.htm#c5
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