The foundations of the science of genetics were laid by an Austrian scientist named Gregor Mendel (born 1822; died 1884). Mendel became a monk and lived and worked at a monastery, of which he became an abbot, near the town of Brunn. Modern genetic scientists have checked and verified the work of Abbé Mendel, but, when he first published the results of his experiments, the importance of his scientific work was not realised.

Mendel did all his work with the ordinary garden pea plant. The characteristics which he used were tall or dwarf peas, peas with yellow pods, and peas with smooth coated seeds and those with wrinkled seeds. Mendel carried out hundreds ofexperiments, crossing one type of pea with another. As an example, the diagram on Page 2 shows the results of one of his experiments where a tall variety of pea was crossed with a dwarf variety. Label the gene for tallness T, and the gene for the dwarf factor t. Before Mendel crossed the two varieties he made sure that they were pure-bred by selecting seed from plants that had been tall or dwarf for several generations. In other words, he knew that the tall variety looked tall and bred tall, and so the cells must have been carrying the genes TT. Similarly, with the dwarf variety, the cells must have been carrying the genes tt. Referring back to the last lecture we can say that the tall variety was homozygous for tallness and the dwarf variety was homozygous for dwarfness. When he crossed the tall pea with the dwarf pea,theoffspring were all tall peas, and he concluded that tallness was dominant over dwarfness.

The offspring obtained by crossing two pure-bred lines is called the first filial generation or the F1 generation. Mendel then took the tall peas of the F1 generation and crossed them with each other, and he got a ratio of 3 tall peas to 1 dwarf pea. This is a 3 to 1 ratio in favour of the dominant gene, as in the case of the polled and horned cattle. 

Figure 1: Crossing Genes

The important facts which were first discovered by Mendel are:

  •   The inheritance of characteristics is dependent on factors, called genes, which are passed on from the parent to their offspring;
  •   The genes controlling a characteristic are present in pairs. We now know that the genes are on pairs of chromosomes in the nucleus of cells;
  •   Only one gene of a pair can enter a gamete – this is what happens during the process of cell division by meiosis; and
  •   In any pair of genes affecting one character, there are two possibilities:
  1. The genes may be alike with both having the same effect on the character. The organism is then pure breeding and said to be homozygous for that character. An important result ofthisis that the internal genetic structure of the organism (the Genotype) must be the same as the external appearance, or Phenotype. This is the case with a. polled bull carrying the PP genes; it looks polled and will always breedpolled calves; and
  • The genes may be different, in which case the organism is not pure-breeding, and is said to be heterozygous for that character. The internal genetic structure of the organism (the Genotype) is different from the external appearance, or Phenotype. This is the case with a polled bull carrying Pp genes; it looks polled but can produce horned calves.

If thegenes in a pair are not equal, the gene with the stronger effect is said to be dominant, and the weaker gene is recessive. The external appearance of the organism, the Phenotype, is determined by the dominant gene while the recessive is completely hidden.

Sometimes different genes have equal effects. When the Red Short horn is crossed with the White Shorthorn it produces a Roan Shorthorn which is an equal mixture of red and white.


Due to the way the chromosomes in a sex cell divide during meiosis, genes that are close together on the chromosome are kept together and are inherited as a group by the offspring; such genes are said to be linked. An example in man is that blue eyes and baldness often go together in European males.


As we have said earlier, cattle have 60 chromosomes, made up of 30 pairs, and of these, 29 pairs are identical to each other, but the last pair does not match; and these are called the sex chromosomes. The larger of the two is called the ‘X’ chromosome, and the shorter is called the ‘Y’ chromosome. See Figure below:

Figure 2: X and Y Chromosomes

The body cells of all females contain two ‘X’ chromosomes while the cells of males contain one ‘X’ and one ‘Y’ chromosome: many different genes are carried in these sex chromosomes. All the sex cells, or gametes, produced by meiosis in the female will carry one ‘X’ chromosome, while the male will produce one gamete with an ‘X’ and one gamete with a ‘Y’ chromosome. See Diagram below:

Figure 3: X and Y Chromosomes in Male and Females

From every mating, half the offspring should be males and half should be females, but other factors can alter this.


The male offspring receives its X chromosome from its mother,and the Y chromosome from its father, and the other genes on these chromosomes are called sex-linked genes. The Y chromosome is shorter than the X chromosome, and it does not carry all the genes found on the X chromosome. It is possible for a male to have an undesirable gene carried on the extra length of the X chromosome, and this is the case with haemophilia, the bleeding disease which affected the Czars of Russia. The disease is passed on from one generation to the next generation by the females, carried on the X chromosome, but only the male children are affected, and suffer from the disease. The females are carriers of the disease, but do not suffer from it.

Other sex-linked characteristics are baldness and colour blindness found in men.

Due to the difference in length between the X and Y chromosomes other dangerous recessive genes can be carried on the X chromosome and this can account for the higher mortality rate in male offspring among mammals. This is shown in the table below:

Table 1: Sex Ratio in Man at Different Ages

Still births, abortions etc.110 – 120100
At birth103 – 107100
Below 20 years of age100100
Below 50 years of age80100
Below 80 years of age50100

In birds, including poultry, there is a difference from mammals in that the female sex chromosome has no active gene on it, so that any sex – linked characteristics are taken from the male parent. This fact can be used to decide the sex of some chickens when they are hatched.

If a Rhode Island Red hen, a breed which is pure breeding for red feathers, is mated with a Light Sussex cockerel, which is pure breeding for white feathers, all the chicks hatched will have white feathers. From this we know that white feather colour is dominant over red feather colour.

Figure 4: Crossing a Red Hen and a White Cockerel

However, the gene controlling feather colour is sex-linked so that a white feathered hen carriesonly one gene for white feathers. The other gene, because of the special female sex-chromosome, carries no gene colour.

If aRhode Island Red cockerel is mated with a LightSussex hen, all the pullet chicks will be red, and the cockerel chicks will be white.

See Diagram below:

Figure 5: Crossing a White Hen with a Red Cockerel