Phenotypic trait

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A phenotypic trait,[1][2] simply trait, or character state[3][4] is a distinct variant of a phenotypic characteristic of an organism; it may be either inherited or determined environmentally, but typically occurs as a combination of the two.[5] For example, eye color is a character of an organism, while blue, brown and hazel are traits.


A phenotypic trait is an obvious, observable, and measurable trait; it is the expression of genes in an observable way. An example of a phenotypic trait is a specific hair color or eye colour. Underlying genes, which make up the genotype, determine the hair color, but the hair color observed is the phenotype. The phenotype is dependent on the genetic make-up of the organism, and also influenced by the environmental conditions to which the organism is subjected across its ontogenetic development,[6] including various epigenetic processes. Regardless of the degree of influence of genotype versus environment, the phenotype encompasses all of the characteristics of an organism, including traits at multiple levels of biological organization, ranging from behavior and evolutionary history of life traits (e.g., litter size), through morphology (e.g., body height and composition), physiology (e.g., blood pressure), cellular characteristics (e.g., membrane lipid composition, mitochondrial densities), components of biochemical pathways, and even messenger RNA.

Genetic origin of traits in diploid organisms[edit]

The inheritable unit that may influence a trait is called a gene. A gene is a portion of a chromosome, which is a very long and compacted string of DNA and proteins. An important reference point along a chromosome is the centromere; the distance from a gene to the centromere is referred to as the gene's locus or map location.

The nucleus of a diploid cell contains two of each chromosome, with homologous (mostly identical) pairs of chromosomes having the same genes at the same loci.

Different phenotypic traits are caused by different forms of genes, or alleles, which arise by mutation in a single individual and are passed on to successive generations.

Mendelian expression of genes in diploid organisms[edit]

A gene is only a DNA code sequence; the slightly different variations of that sequence are called alleles. Alleles can be significantly different and produce different product RNAs.

Combinations of different alleles thus go on to generate different traits through the information flow charted above. For example, if the alleles on homologous chromosomes exhibit a "simple dominance" relationship, the trait of the "dominant" allele shows in the phenotype.

Gregor Mendel pioneered modern genetics. His most famous analyses were based on clear-cut traits with simple dominance. He determined that the heritable units, what we now call genes, occurred in pairs. His tool was statistics.

Biochemistry of dominance and extensions to expression of traits[edit]

The biochemistry of the intermediate proteins determines how they interact in the cell. Therefore, biochemistry predicts how different combinations of alleles will produce varying traits.

Extended expression patterns seen in diploid organisms include facets of incomplete dominance, codominance, and multiple alleles. Incomplete dominance is the condition in which neither allele dominates the other in one heterozygote. Instead the phenotype is intermediate in heterozygotes. Thus you can tell that each allele is present in the heterozygote.[7] Codominance refers to the allelic relationship that occurs when two alleles are both expressed in the heterozygote, and both phenotypes are seen simultaneously.[8] Multiple alleles refers to the situation when there are more than 2 common alleles of a particular gene. Blood groups in humans is a classic example. The ABO blood group proteins are important in determining blood type in humans, and this is determined by different alleles of the one locus.[9]


Schizotypy is an example of a psychological phenotypic trait found in schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. Studies have shown that gender and age influences the expression of schizotypal traits.[10] For instance, certain schizotypal traits may develop further during adolescence, whereas others stay the same during this period.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Williams, David; Schmitt, Michael; Wheeler, Quentin (2016-07-21). The Future of Phylogenetic Systematics: The Legacy of Willi Hennig. ISBN 9781107117648.
  2. ^ Yeates, David K.; Wiegmann, Brian M. (2005). The Evolutionary Biology of Flies. ISBN 9780231127004.
  3. ^ "Reconstructing trees: A step by step method - Understanding Evolution". 29 May 2021.
  4. ^ Wright, April M; Lloyd, Graeme T; Hillis, David M (2016). "Modeling Character Change Heterogeneity in Phylogenetic Analyses of Morphology through the Use of Priors". Systematic Biology. 65 (4): 602–611. doi:10.1093/sysbio/syv122. PMID 26715586.
  5. ^ Lawrence, Eleanor (2005) Henderson's Dictionary of Biology. Pearson, Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-127384-1
  6. ^ *Campbell, Neil; Reece, Jane, Biology, Benjamin Cummings
  7. ^ Bailey, Regina. "What is incomplete dominance".
  8. ^ McClean, Philip. "Variations to Mendel's First Law of Genetics".
  9. ^ Unknown. "Multiple Alleles".
  10. ^ a b Fonseca-Pedrero, Eduardo; Lemos-Giráldez, Serafín; Paino, Mercedes; Sierra-Baigrie, Susana; Muñiz, José (2012-08-01). "Phenotypic Expression of Schizotypal Traits in an Adolescent Population". Journal of Personality Disorders. 26 (4): 539–550. doi:10.1521/pedi.2012.26.4.539. ISSN 0885-579X. PMID 22867505.


  • Lawrence, Eleanor (2005) Henderson's Dictionary of Biology. Pearson, Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-127384-1
  • Campbell, Neil; Reece, Jane (March 2011) [2002], "14", Biology (Sixth ed.), Benjamin Cummings