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Multiple Alleles

Multiple Alleles Definition

Multiple alleles exist in a population when there are many variations of
a gene present. In organisms with two copies of every gene, also known
as diploid organisms, each organism has the ability to express two alleles at the
same time. They can be the same allele, which is called a homozygous genotype.
Alternatively, the genotype can consist of alleles of different types, known as
a heterozygous genotype. Haploid organisms and cells only have one copy of a
gene, but the population can still have many alleles.

In both haploid and diploid organisms, new alleles are created by spontaneous
mutations. These mutations can arise in a variety of ways, but the effect is a
different sequence of nucleic acid bases in the DNA. The genetic code is “read”
as a series of codons or triplets of nucleic acid bases that correspond to
individual amino acids. A mutation causes the sequence of amino acids to
change, either in a simple or drastic way. Simple changes that only affect a few
amino acids can produce multiple alleles in a population, all of which function in
almost the same way, just to a different degree. Other mutations cause large
changes in the protein created, and it will not function at all. Other mutations
give rise to novel forms of protein which may allow organisms to develop new
pathways, structure, and functions.

Most of the time, scientists focus on the phenotypes that are created by certain
alleles, and all alleles are classified by the phenotypes they create. However, a
given phenotype can be caused by a large number of mutations. While humans
have thousands of genes, they have over 3 billion base pairs. This means each
gene consists of many, many base pairs. A mutation in any base pair can cause a
new allele.

Multiple alleles combine in different ways in a population, and produce different

phenotypes. These phenotypes are caused by the proteins encoded for by the
various alleles. Although each gene encodes for the same type of protein, the
different alleles can cause high variability in the functioning of these proteins.
Just because a protein functions at a higher or lower rate does not make it good
or bad. This is determined by the sum of the interactions of all the proteins
produced in an organism and the effects of the environment on those proteins.
Some organism, driven by multiple alleles in a variety of genes, do better than
others and can reproduce more. This is the basis of natural selection, and as new
mutations arise and new lines of genetics are born the origin of species takes

Examples of Multiple Alleles

Coat Color in Cats

In domestic cats, breeding has taken place for thousands of years selecting for
different and varied coat colors. Cats can be seen with long hair, short hair, and
no hair. There are genes that code for whether or not a cat will have hair. There
are multiple alleles for this gene, some that produce hairless cats, and some that
produce cats with hair. Another gene regulates the length of the hair. Long
haired cats have two recessive alleles, while a dominate allele will produce short
Other genes control the color of coat. There is a gene for several colors of
pigment: red, black and brown. Each gene has multiple alleles in the population,
which express the protein responsible for making the pigment. Each allele
changes the way the protein works, and therefore the expression of the pigment
in the cat. Other genes, in similar ways, control traits for curliness, shading,
patterns, and even texture. The amount of combinations and expressions of
different genotypes together creates an almost infinite variety of cates. For this
reason, cat breeders have been successfully attempting for thousands of years to
create new and strange varieties of cats, and dogs for that matter. Even with
only 4 alleles between two parents at each gene, the variety can be incredible.
Just look at the kittens in the photo above. All these kittens came from the same

Fruit Flies

In the year 2000, scientist finally succeeded in mapping the complex genome of
the common fruit fly, Drosophilia melanogaster. The fruit fly had been, and
continues to be, a valuable laboratory animal because of its high reproduction
rate and the simplicity of keeping and analyzing large quantities of flies. At about
165 million base pairs, the DNA of a fruit fly is much smaller than that of a
human. While a human has 23 chromosomes, a fruit fly only has 4. Still, in only
chromosomes, there exists around 17,000 genes. Each gene controls a different
aspect of the fly, and is subject to mutation and new alleles arising.

In the picture above, all the flies are the same species Drosophilia melanogaster.
The variation seen between the flies is caused by multiple alleles, in different
genes. For instance, the gene for eye color determines if the fly will have an
orange/brown eye, a red eye, or a white eye. Both the white and orange alleles
are recessive to the wild type red eye allele. The two flies at the top have wild
type bodies, a tan with dark stripes. In the gene that controls body color, two
other alleles are present. The fly on the far right is showing a homozygous
recessive genotype that causes a dark body. The three flies on the bottom show
another homozygous recessive genotype, the yellow body mutation.

Other traits include everything from how the wings form, to the shape of the
antennae, to the enzymes produced in the fly’s saliva. Although 17,000 genes
may not seem like that many, the total number of alleles in a population makes
the total variety much higher than that. Each newly mutated allele adds another
combination to the almost infinite pool of genetic variety.

Related Biology Terms

 Homozygous – An individual with two of the same allele, as opposed to
heterozygous individuals which have two different alleles.
 Mutation – The replacement of a nucleic acid base in a gene with another
nucleic acid, multiple nucleic acids, or the deletion of the nucleic acid
 Epistasis – When multiple genes produce an effect on the same trait, a
fact true of most traits even if it is hard to see.

1. A mutation arises in a gene that causes a very minor change in the
protein produced. The changes are so minor that the protein functions
in practically the same way. So, although a new allele was produced, it
is not that much different from the wild-type, or most common allele.
Will this allele persist in the population?
A. Yes
B. No
C. Maybe
Answer to Question #1

2. In some genes with multiple alleles, when the alleles are together in
a genotype they express their influence equally in the phenotype. This
is known as incomplete dominance. However, other alleles in the
population may not express themselves equally, and are considered
recessive. If an organism with two dominant alleles and an
incompletely dominant phenotype breeds with an organism with two
recessive alleles, what will the offspring look like?
A. They will look like one or the other dominant alleles.
B. They will be something in between the two parents.
C. They will also show incomplete dominance.

Answer to Question #2

3. Often, breeders of animals aim to breed “true” lines. This means that
generation after generation, the animals will look almost exactly the
same, and the number of different alleles in a population is reduced.
Why would this be important for scientific research?
A. It is not important.
B. Stable organisms ensure that the experiment can be repeated.
C. More variety is good for research.

Multiple alleles is a type of non-Mendelian inheritance pattern that involves more

than just the typical two alleles that usually code for a certain characteristic in a
species. With multiple alleles, that means there are more than two phenotypes
available depending on the dominant or recessive alleles that are available in the
trait and the dominance pattern the individual alleles follow when combined

Gregor Mendel only studied traits in his pea plants that showed simple or
complete dominance and had only two alleles that could contribute to any one
trait the plant showed. It wasn't until later that it was discovered that some traits
can have more than two alleles that code for their phenotypes. This allowed many
more phenotypesto be visible for any given trait while still following Mendel's
Laws of Inheritance.
Most of the time, when multiple alleles come into play for a trait, there is a mix of
types of dominance patterns that occur. Sometimes, one of the alleles is
completely recessive to the others and will be masked by any of those that are
dominant to it. Other alleles may be co-dominant together and show their traits
equally in the phenotype of the individual.

There are also some cases where some alleles exhibit incomplete
dominance when put together in the genotype. An individual with this type of
inheritance connected to its multiple alleles will show a blended phenotype that
mixes both of the alleles' traits together.

Examples of Multiple Alleles

The human ABO blood type is a good example of multiple alleles. Humans can
have red blood cells that are of type A (IA), type B (IB), or type O (i). These three
different alleles can be combined in different ways following Mendel's Laws of
Inheritance. The resulting genotypes make either type A, type B, type AB, or type
O blood. Type A blood is a combination of either two A alleles (IA IA) or one A
allele and one O allele (IAi). Similarly, type B blood is coded for by either two B
alleles (IB IB) or one B allele and one O allele (IBi). Type O blood can only be
obtained with two recessive O alleles (ii). These are all examples of simple or
complete dominance.

Type AB blood is an example of co-dominance. The A allele and the B allele are
equal in their dominance and will be expressed equally if they are paired together
into the genotype IA IB. Neither the A allele or the B allele is dominant over each
other, so each type is expressed equally in the phenotype giving the human an AB
blood type.

… Mr kousen is … Water Man

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to continue if we
don't know what the word "allele" means.

allele = (n) a form of a gene which codes for one

possible outcome of a phenotype
For example, in Mendel's pea investigations, he found
that there was a gene that determined the color of the
pea pod. One form of it (one allele) creates yellow pods,
& the other form (allele) creates green pods.

Get it? Two possible phenotypes of one trait (pod color)

are determined by two alleles (forms) of the one "color"


When the gene for one trait exists as only two alleles &
the alleles play according to Mendel's Law of Dominance,
there are 3 possible genotypes (combination of alleles) &
2 possible phenotypes (the dominant one or the recessive

Using the pea pod trait as an example, the possibilities

are like so:

Homozygous Dominant PHENOTYPE
(YY) Yellow
Heterozygous (Yy) Yellow
Homozygous Recessive Green

Y = the dominant allele for yellow &
y = the recessive allele for green

If there are only two alleles involved in determining the

phenotype of a certain trait, but there
are three possible phenotypes, then the inheritance of
the trait illustrates either incomplete dominance or

In these situations a heterozygous (hybrid) genotype

produces a 3rd phenotype that is either a blend of the
other two phenotypes (incomplete dominance) or a mixing
of the other phenotypes with both appearing at the same
time (codominance).
Here's an example with Incomplete Dominance:

BB = Homozygous PHENOTYPE
Black Black Fur
BW = Heterozygous Grey Fur
WW = Homozygous White Fur

B = allele for black &
W = allele for white

And here's an example with Codominance:

BB = Homozygous PHENOTYPE
Black Black Fur
BW = Black & White
Heterozygous Fur
WW = Homozygous White Fur

B = allele for black &
W = allele for white


Now, if there are 4 or more possible phenotypes for a

particular trait, then more than 2 alleles for that trait
must exist in the population. We call this "MULTIPLE

Let me stress something. There may be multiple alleles

within the population, but individuals have only two of
those alleles.


Because individuals have only two biological parents. We

inherit half of our genes (alleles) from ma, & the other
half from pa, so we end up with two alleles for every
trait in our phenotype.
An excellent example of multiple allele inheritance is
human blood type. Blood type exists as four possible
phenotypes: A, B, AB, & O.

There are 3 alleles for the gene that determines blood

(Remember: You have just 2 of the 3 in your genotype --- 1 from mom & 1 from

The alleles are as follows:

Type "B"
IB Blood
i Type "O"

Notice that, according to the symbols used in the table

above, that the allele for "O" (i) is recessive to the
alleles for "A" & "B".

With three alleles we have a higher number of possible

combinations in creating a genotype.

IAIA Type A rrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyww
IAi Type A wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwrrrrrrrrrr
Type B rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy
IBi Type B wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
IAIB Type AB rrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyywwwwwwww
ii Type O wwwwwwryyyyyyyyyyyyyywwwwwww

 As you can count, there are 6 different genotypes & 4

different phenotypes for blood type.
 Note that there are two genotypes for both "A" & "B"
blood --- either homozygous (IAIA or IBIB) or
heterozygous with one recessive allele for "O" (IAi
or IBi).
 Note too that the only genotype for "O" blood is
homozygous recessive (ii).
 And lastly, what's the deal with "AB" blood? What is
this an example of? The "A" trait & the "B" trait
appear together in the phenotype. Think think
think .... {ANSWER}


Let me inform you that in my time teaching this fabulous

subject of biology & this incredibly fun unit on genetics,
the only multiple allele questions I have ever seen have
been about the human blood type trait. So included here,
for your academic pleasure, are some examples of these
types of questions. Work out the problems on paper &
then click to see the solutions.

(I realize that paper is old-fashioned in the world o' internet, but I

haven't become technically savvy enough to do it any other way .... yet.)

1. A woman with Type O blood and a man who is Type AB

have are expecting a child. What are the possible blood
types of the kid? {answer}

2. What are the possible blood types of a child who's

parents are both heterozygous for "B" blood
type? {answer}

3. What are the chances of a woman with Type AB and a man

with Type A having a child with Type O? {answer}

4. Determine the possible genotypes & phenotypes with

respect to blood type for a couple who's blood types are
homozygous A & heterozygous B. {answer}

5. Jill is blood Type O. She has two older brothers (who

tease her like crazy) with blood types A & B. What are
the genotypes of her parents with respect to this
trait? {answer}

6. A test was done to determine the biological father of

a child. The child's blood Type is A and the mother's is
B. Dude #1 has a blood type of O, & dude #2 has blood
type AB. Which dude is the biological father? {answer}
Well, that's all I have to say about that .... hope it
was helpful.

biotopics page

click here


1. A woman with Type O blood and a man who is Type AB have are expecting a
child. What are the possible blood types of the kid?

Solve this using the symbols for blood type alleles & the good old punnett square. Step #1,
figure out the genotypes of ma & pa using the given info. "Woman with Type O" must be
ii, because that is the one & only genotype for Type O. "Man who is AB" must be IAIB,
again because it is the one & only genotype for AB blood.
So our cross is: ii x IAIB. The proper p-square would look like this:

As you can see, our results are as follows:

50% of kids will be heterozygous with blood
Type A
50% will be heterozygous with blood Type
on to #2

2. What are the possible blood types of a child who's parents are both
heterozygous for "B" blood type?
Step 1 - determine genotypes of parents using info in the question.
Heterozygous means one dominant & one recessive allele. Since they are Type "B", the
dominant allele is IB, & the only recessive allele for blood type is "i". So the both parents
are IBi, & the cross is IBi x IBi.
Step 2 - our friend the punnett sqaure:

There is a 75% (3 of 4) chance that the child

will be Type B,
and a 25% (1 of 4) chance that the child will
inherit Type O (ii).
on to #3

3. What are the chances of a woman with Type AB and a man with Type A having
a child with Type O?

OK, no sweat. The genotypes of the parents are kindly supplied to us, so it's just of matter
of using the punnett square correctly. But wait a minute, we don't know whether the dad is
homozygous A (IAIA) or heterozygous A (IAi). Hmmmm ....
Well, let's just go with what we know. We'll just use a "?" for the unknown allele.
Correct use of a p-square should lead you to something that resembles this:

Remember, the question is "what are the chances of a

child with TypeO"?
As you can see, none of the squares are gonna be "ii", so
there is no chance of a child with Type O.
If one parent is AB, there is no chance any child can be O
because the AB parent doesn't have a "i" to pass on.
on to #4

4. Determine the possible genotypes & phenotypes with respect to blood type
for a couple who's blood types are homozygous A & heterozygous B.

Step #1 - "homozygous A" = IAIA, & "heterozygous B" = IBi

Step #2 - Punnett Square Time !

Alright, the results

are in.
50% (2 of 4
squares) are
IAIB & those kids
would have AB
The other 50% (2
of 4 squares) are
IAi, those kids will
have Type A
on to #5

5. Jill is blood Type O. She has two older brothers (who tease her like
crazy) with blood types A & B. What are the genotypes of her parents with
respect to this trait?
With some careful thinking we don't even need to do the p-square thing. Jill is Type O,
meaning her genotype is "ii". This means that her parents each have at least one "i" in
their genotype (since she inherited one from each parent).
Since one brother is Type B, one of the parents must have the IB allele, making that parent
And since the other brother is Type A, the other parent must have the IA allele & have a
genotype of IAi.
There you have it. Jill's parents are IAi & IB , and her brothers shouldn't be so mean.

on to #6

6. A test was done to determine the biological father of a child. The

child's blood Type is A and the mother's is B. Dude #1 has a blood type of
O, & dude #2 has blood type AB. Which dude is the biological father?
Well well, a real brain teaser type. Sherlock Holmes deal question. First sort out the given
facts. Then do 2 punnet squares, each dude crossed with the mom to see what the possible
offspring could or couldn't be with respect to blood type.
Fact 1 - The child is either IAIA or IAi.
Fact 2 - Mom has "B" blood, so she is either IBIB or IBi. BUT, if she were IBIB the child
would have inherited a IB from her & couldn't have a blood type of just A (which he
does). So mom must be IBi.
Fact 3 - Dude #1 has type O blood, so his genotype must be "ii", becasue that is the only
genotype that codes for "O" blood.
Fact 4 - Dude #2 is type AB. The only genotype for AB blood is IAIB, so that's what he is.
Now, let's determine the possible blood types of kids produced by the mom with each of the

g of
Woman x Dude #2 Woman
Woman x Dude #1
IBi x IAIB & Dude
IBi x ii Possible
g of
& Dude
Type B,
A child
Type O
chance B
The child is Type A, so dude #1 cannot be the father. Dude #2 could be.

The question can be answered more "quickly" be realizing that since the child's blood type
is different from his mom, that allele must have come from dad. So the "A" allele that
makes him Type A came from dad, & dude #2 is the only one with that allele in his
genotype (IAIB). Dude #1 doesn't have any IA alleles, he's type O (ii).