Non Nuclear Inheritance

The nucleus is not the only organelle in a eukaryotic cell that carries genetic material. As we described in Chapter 4, mitochondria and plastids, which may have arisen from prokary-otes that colonized other cells, contain small numbers of genes. For example, in humans, there are about 30,000 genes in the nuclear genome and 37 in the mitochondrial genome. Plastid genomes are about five times larger than those of mitochondria. In any case, several of the genes of cytoplasmic organelles are important for organelle assembly and function, so it is not surprising that mutations of these genes have profound effects on the organism.

The inheritance of organelle genes differs from that of nuclear genes for several reasons:

► In most organisms, mitochondria and plastids are inherited from the mother only. As you will see in later chapters, eggs contain abundant cytoplasm and organelles, but the only part of the sperm that survives to take part in the union of haploid gametes is the nucleus. So you have inherited your mother's mitochondria (with their genes), but not your father's.

► There may be hundreds of mitochondria or plastids in a cell. So a cell is not diploid for organelle genes; rather, it is highly polyploid.

► Organelle genes tend to mutate at much faster rates than nuclear genes, so there are multiple alleles of organelle genes.

The phenotypes of mutations in the DNA of organelles reflect the organelles' roles. For example, in plants and some eukaryotic algae, certain plastid mutations affect the proteins that assemble chlorophyll molecules into photosystems (see Figure 8.9) and result in a phenotype that is essentially white instead of green. Mitochondrial mutations that affect one of the complexes in the electron transport chain result in less ATP production. They have especially noticeable effects in tissues with a high energy requirement, such as the nervous system, muscles, and kidneys. In 1995, Greg Lemond, a professional cyclist who had won the famous Tour de France three times, was forced to retire because of muscle weakness suspected to be caused by a mitochondrial mutation.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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