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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Importance of Context in Genetics

Genetic effects can be altered by their surroundings, and this determines the inheritance of traits such as flower color and the likelihood of cancer

H. Frederik Nijhout

Figure 1. Some traits vary widelyClick to Enlarge Image

Gregor Mendel described several traits that were each governed by a single gene. Modern genetics, however, suggests that genes exist within complex networks of interaction and regulation, and that a gene's effect depends upon its surrounding genes and environment. The author explains why understanding this context is essential to understanding gene function, starting with simple genetic examples and working up to multistep enzymatic pathways. In the process, he describes the inheritance of flower color and illustrates why having a disease gene doesn’t always result in disease.


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