Equal Segregation of Alleles
Observing that true-breeding pea plants with contrasting traits gave rise to F1 generations that all expressed the dominant trait and F2 generations that expressed the dominant and recessive traits in a 3:1 ratio, Mendel proposed the law of segregation. The law of segregation states that each individual that is a diploid has a pair of alleles (copy) for a particular trait. Each parent passes an allele at random to their offspring resulting in a diploid organism (Figure 1). The allele that contains the dominant trait determines the phenotype of the offspring. In essence, the law states that copies of genes separate or segregate so that each gamete receives only one allele.
For the F2 generation of a monohybrid cross, the following three possible combinations of genotypes could result: homozygous dominant, heterozygous, or homozygous recessive. Because heterozygotes could arise from two different pathways (receiving one dominant and one recessive allele from either parent), and because heterozygotes and homozygous dominant individuals are phenotypically identical, the law supports Mendel’s observed 3:1 phenotypic ratio. The equal segregation of alleles is the reason we can apply the Punnett square to accurately predict the offspring of parents with known genotypes.
The physical basis of Mendel’s law of segregation is the first division of meiosis in which the homologous chromosomes with their different versions of each gene are segregated into daughter nuclei. The behavior of homologous chromosomes during meiosis can account for the segregation of the alleles at each genetic locus to different gametes. As chromosomes separate into different gametes during meiosis, the two different alleles for a particular gene also segregate so that each gamete acquires one of the two alleles. In Mendel’s experiments, the segregation and the independent assortment during meiosis in the F1 generation give rise to the F2 phenotypic ratios observed by Mendel. The role of the meiotic segregation of chromosomes in sexual reproduction was not understood by the scientific community during Mendel’s lifetime.