Gene vs Allele

Team Biology at
Created by: Team Biology at, Last Updated: June 12, 2024

Gene vs Allele

In genetics, understanding the difference between a gene and an allele is crucial. Genes are segments of DNA that code for proteins, which determine traits. Alleles are different versions of a gene that arise through mutation and contribute to genetic diversity. By exploring how genes and alleles work, we can better grasp heredity, variation, and evolution. This article delves into the fundamental distinctions between genes and alleles, providing clear explanations and examples to help you understand their roles in biology.


A gene is a fundamental unit of heredity in living organisms. Genes consist of DNA and are responsible for coding the instructions for building and maintaining cells and passing genetic information from one generation to the next.

Structure of a Gene

  • DNA Sequence: A gene is a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA. These sequences include coding regions (exons) that specify the protein structure and non-coding regions (introns) that may have regulatory roles.
  • Chromosomes: Genes are located on chromosomes, which are long strands of DNA wrapped around proteins called histones. Each chromosome contains many genes.

Function of Genes

  • Protein Synthesis: Genes contain the instructions for synthesizing proteins. Through the processes of transcription and translation, the information in a gene’s DNA sequence is used to create proteins, which perform essential functions in the body.
  • Regulation: Some genes are involved in regulating the activity of other genes. Regulatory genes can turn other genes on or off, controlling the timing and amount of protein production.

Types of Genes

  • Structural Genes: These genes code for structural proteins like collagen, keratin, and enzymes that perform various biochemical reactions.
  • Regulatory Genes: These genes control the expression of other genes, ensuring that the right genes are active at the right times.
  • Housekeeping Genes: These genes are constantly active in cells and perform basic functions necessary for cell survival.

Gene Expression

Gene expression is the process by which the information encoded in a gene is used to direct the synthesis of a protein. This involves:

  • Transcription: The DNA sequence of a gene is copied into messenger RNA (mRNA).
  • Translation: The mRNA is used as a template to build a protein with the help of ribosomes and transfer RNA (tRNA).

Examples of Genes

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: These genes are involved in DNA repair and, when mutated, can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Hemoglobin Gene: This gene codes for the protein hemoglobin, which is essential for oxygen transport in the blood.


An allele is a variant form of a gene that arises by mutation and is found at a specific place on a chromosome. Alleles contribute to the genetic diversity within a population by introducing variations in traits. Here’s an in-depth look at alleles:

Structure of an Allele

  • DNA Sequence Variation: Alleles are variations of the same gene. While they occupy the same position (locus) on a chromosome, they have different DNA sequences. These variations can result in different traits or characteristics.
  • Chromosomal Location: Like genes, alleles are located on chromosomes. Each individual inherits two alleles for each gene, one from each parent.

Function of Alleles

  • Trait Variation: Alleles are responsible for the diversity of traits observed in organisms. For example, the gene for flower color in peas can have alleles for purple and white flowers.
  • Dominant and Recessive Alleles: Alleles can be dominant or recessive. A dominant allele masks the effect of a recessive allele when present. For example, in humans, the allele for brown eyes (B) is dominant over the allele for blue eyes (b).

Types of Alleles

  • Homozygous: When an individual has two identical alleles for a gene (e.g., BB or bb).
  • Heterozygous: When an individual has two different alleles for a gene (e.g., Bb).

Allele Interaction

  • Codominance: Both alleles in a heterozygous pair are fully expressed. An example is the AB blood type in humans, where both A and B alleles are expressed.
  • Incomplete Dominance: The phenotype is a blend of both alleles. An example is the flower color in snapdragons, where crossing red and white flowers produces pink offspring.

Examples of Alleles

  • Blood Type Alleles: The ABO blood group system in humans is determined by three alleles: I^A, I^B, and i. The combination of these alleles results in four possible blood types: A, B, AB, and O.
  • Cystic Fibrosis: The CFTR gene has many alleles, some of which cause cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the respiratory and digestive systems.

Differences between Gene and Allele

Differences between Gene and Allele
DefinitionA segment of DNA that contains the instructions for the development of a specific trait or function.A variant form of a gene that arises by mutation and is found at the same place on a chromosome.
FunctionCodes for proteins and determines various biological functions and traits.Influences the specific expression of a trait or characteristic.
Number per TraitTypically, one gene per trait, though some traits are influenced by multiple genes (polygenic).Multiple alleles can exist for a single gene, but an individual can have only two alleles (one from each parent) for a given gene.
ExampleThe gene for eye color.The alleles for eye color could be blue, brown, green, etc.
Nucleotide SequenceComprises a long sequence of DNA that includes coding regions (exons) and non-coding regions (introns).Slight differences in the nucleotide sequence of a gene that create different alleles.
InheritanceGenes are inherited from parents to offspring and determine the general structure and function.Alleles are the specific variations of a gene inherited from each parent.
ExpressionGenes are generally expressed to produce RNA and proteins, leading to phenotypic traits.Alleles determine the variations in the expression of the gene, leading to different phenotypes.
Location on ChromosomeA specific locus (position) on a chromosome.Found at the same locus on homologous chromosomes, but may differ in sequence between the two homologues.
Impact on PhenotypeThe overall gene influences the phenotype related to a particular trait.Different alleles can result in variations in the phenotype, such as different eye colors, blood types, or risk of certain diseases.
MutationGene mutations can create new alleles.Alleles are essentially versions of a gene created through mutation.

Similarities Between Gene and Allele

1. Basic Units of Heredity

  • Both genes and alleles are crucial for the transmission of hereditary information from one generation to the next.
  • Genes are segments of DNA that code for specific proteins or traits.
  • Alleles are different versions of a gene that determine variations in the expressed trait.

2. Location on Chromosomes

  • Genes and alleles are located on chromosomes, the structures within cells that contain DNA.
  • Each gene resides at a specific position, or locus, on a chromosome.
  • Alleles occupy the same locus on homologous chromosomes, meaning one chromosome inherited from each parent will carry the same gene but possibly different alleles.

3. Inheritance Patterns

  • Both genes and alleles follow Mendelian inheritance patterns, including dominance, recessiveness, and co-dominance.
  • These patterns explain how traits are passed from parents to offspring and how different combinations of alleles result in different phenotypes.

4. Role in Trait Determination

  • Genes determine the overall trait or characteristic, while alleles contribute to the variation seen in that trait.
  • For example, the gene for eye color will dictate that an organism has eyes, while the alleles for eye color determine whether those eyes are blue, brown, green, etc.

5. Interaction with Environment

  • Both genes and alleles can interact with environmental factors to influence the expression of traits.
  • Environmental conditions can affect how genes and their alleles are expressed, leading to variations in phenotype.

6. Mutation and Variation

  • Genes and alleles can both undergo mutations, leading to genetic variation within a population.
  • These mutations can result in new alleles, which contribute to the genetic diversity of a species.

7. Molecular Composition

  • Both genes and alleles are composed of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
  • The sequence of nucleotides (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) within the DNA determines the specific information carried by the gene or allele.

What is a gene?

A gene is a DNA segment that codes for a specific protein or function, acting as a fundamental unit of heredity.

What is an allele?

An allele is a variant form of a gene that determines specific traits or characteristics.

How do genes and alleles differ?

Genes are DNA segments responsible for traits; alleles are variations of these genes causing different expressions of a trait.

Can a gene have multiple alleles?

Yes, a gene can have multiple alleles, each producing different trait variations.

What is an example of genes and alleles?

Eye color is determined by the gene OCA2, with alleles producing blue, green, or brown eyes.

How are genes inherited?

Genes are inherited from parents, with one copy from each parent forming pairs in offspring.

What role do alleles play in genetics?

Alleles determine the variations in traits inherited from each parent, leading to genetic diversity.

Can alleles be dominant or recessive?

Yes, alleles can be dominant (expressed trait) or recessive (masked by dominant allele).

What is a homozygous allele?

Homozygous alleles occur when an individual has two identical alleles for a trait.

What is a heterozygous allele?

Heterozygous alleles occur when an individual has two different alleles for a trait.

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