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Medicine LibreTexts

28.10A: Mendel’s Laws of Heredity

Mendel formed the Laws of Heredity (the Law of Segregation and the Law of Independent Assortment) from his pea plant experiments.




Discuss the methods Mendel utilized in his research that led to his success in understanding the process of inheritance



Key Points


  • By crossing purple and white pea plants, Mendel found the offspring were purple rather than mixed, indicating one color was dominant over the other.
  • Mendel’s Law of Segregation states individuals possess two alleles and a parent passes only one allele to his/her offspring.
  • Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment states the inheritance of one pair of factors ( genes ) is independent of the inheritance of the other pair.
  • If the two alleles are identical, the individual is called homozygous for the trait; if the two alleles are different, the individual is called heterozygous.
  • Mendel cross-bred dihybrids and found that traits were inherited independently of each other.


Key Terms


  • homozygous: of an organism in which both copies of a given gene have the same allele
  • heterozygous: of an organism which has two different alleles of a given gene
  • allele: one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene occupying a given position on a chromosome


Mendelian inheritance (or Mendelian genetics or Mendelism) is a set of primary tenets relating to the transmission of hereditary characteristics from parent organisms to their children; it underlies much of genetics. The tenets were initially derived from the work of Gregor Mendel published in 1865 and 1866, which was “re-discovered” in 1900; they were initially very controversial, but they soon became the core of classical genetics.

The laws of inheritance were derived by Gregor Mendel, a 19th century monk conducting hybridization experiments in garden peas (Pisum sativum). Between 1856 and 1863, he cultivated and tested some 28,000 pea plants. From these experiments, he deduced two generalizations that later became known as Mendel’s Laws of Heredity or Mendelian inheritance. He described these laws in a two part paper,”Experiments on Plant Hybridization,” which was published in 1866.

Mendel’s Laws

Mendel discovered that by crossing true-breeding white flower and true-breeding purple flower plants, the result was a hybrid offspring. Rather than being a mix of the two colors, the offspring was purple flowered. He then conceived the idea of heredity units, which he called “factors,” one of which is a recessive characteristic and the other dominant. Mendel said that factors, later called genes, normally occur in pairs in ordinary body cells, yet segregate during the formation of sex cells. Each member of the pair becomes part of the separate sex cell. The dominant gene, such as the purple flower in Mendel’s plants, will hide the recessive gene, the white flower. After Mendel self-fertilized the F1 generation and obtained an F2 generation with a 3:1 ratio, he correctly theorized that genes can be paired in three different ways for each trait: AA, aa, and Aa. The capital A represents the dominant factor while the lowercase a represents the recessive.



Mendel’s Pea Plants: In one of his experiments on inheritance patterns, Mendel crossed plants that were true-breeding for violet flower color with plants true-breeding for white flower color (the P generation). The resulting hybrids in the F1 generation all had violet flowers. In the F2 generation, approximately three-quarters of the plants had violet flowers, and one-quarter had white flowers.


Mendel stated that each individual has two alleles for each trait, one from each parent. Thus, he formed the “first rule,” the Law of Segregation, which states individuals possess two alleles and a parent passes only one allele to his/her offspring. One allele is given by the female parent and the other is given by the male parent. The two factors may or may not contain the same information. If the two alleles are identical, the individual is called homozygous for the trait. If the two alleles are different, the individual is called heterozygous. The presence of an allele does not promise that the trait will be expressed in the individual that possesses it. In heterozygous individuals, the only allele that is expressed is the dominant. The recessive allele is present, but its expression is hidden. The genotype of an individual is made up of the many alleles it possesses. An individual’s physical appearance, or phenotype, is determined by its alleles as well as by its environment.

Mendel also analyzed the pattern of inheritance of seven pairs of contrasting traits in the domestic pea plant. He did this by cross-breeding dihybrids; that is, plants that were heterozygous for the alleles controlling two different traits. Mendel then crossed these dihybrids. If it is inevitable that round seeds must always be yellow and wrinkled seeds must be green, then he would have expected that this would produce a typical monohybrid cross: 75 percent round-yellow; 25 percent wrinkled-green. But, in fact, his mating generated seeds that showed all possible combinations of the color and texture traits. He found 9/16 of the offspring were round-yellow, 3/16 were round-green, 3/16 were wrinkled-yellow, and 1/16 were wrinkled-green. Finding in every case that each of his seven traits was inherited independently of the others, he formed his “second rule,” the Law of Independent Assortment, which states the inheritance of one pair of factors (genes) is independent of the inheritance of the other pair. Today we know that this rule holds only if the genes are on separate chromosomes