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Extranuclear Inheritance

The Practical Importance Of Extranuclear Genes

Mutations of mitochondrial genes have been found to cause a number of hereditary diseases in humans. Many of these mutations lead to defects in muscles, including the heart, and the nervous system. Because mitochondrial genes are found in nearly all eukaryotes, they are often used to trace the evolutionary history of organisms, including humans. Chloroplast genes are used for evolutionary studies in plants and algae. When organelle genes are inherited from only one parent, they can be used to trace the ancestry of individuals within a species without the complications caused by recombination between maternal and paternal genes.

Mitochondrial genes can also be used to trace the female ancestor of humans, while Y-chromosome genes can be used to trace male ancestors. In this way, differences between males and females in migration or patterns of reproduction can be detected. In addition, mitochondrial genes are used in studies of animal behavior to identify the parents of animals and birds and determine their social structure. Since the organelle genome is so highly simplified, mtDNA or cpDNA can be retrieved and analyzed from ancient or poorly preserved samples in which there would be no chance of retrieving a nuclear marker.

C. William Birky,Jr.


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Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2Extranuclear Inheritance - Genes In Mitochondria And Chloroplasts, Endosymbiotic Origin Of Mitochondria And Chloroplasts, Non-mendelian Inheritance Of Organelle Genes