Plieotropy, multi-gene traits and epistasis

Some variants in inheritance.


Multi-gene trait.
There's really not much to this. Some traits…really most interesting traits…may be inherited, but be based on more than one gene. So, there is no single gene for being tall. There is no allele for being 6' tall. But, that doesn't mean that height is not inherited. Many different loci may contribute to it. Here is a hypothetical plot of what you might expect if there are three loci that contribute to height, each with two alleles where the dominant of each allele contributes positively to height (note, there is no reason any of those assumptions should be true). You might see a distribution that looks something like this:
Multigenedist

So, you can get a distribution of heights based on some combination of alleles at different loci. In this case, we are assuming simple additive interactions among the genes. It an be more complex (See below(.

Pleiotropy
This is sort of the opposite of multi-gene trait. Here, one gene can affect many traits. We've discussed this in the context of cytoskeletal proteins before. For example, mutations to a microtubule-associated motor protein could affect male fertility (sperm flagellum), airway function (cilia on airway epithelium) and vesicle transport and secretion of proteins. Everywhere that protein is needed, you would see some effect.

Epistasis
Finally, there is epistasis. Proteins interact with other proteins, so variations in one gene can affect how you see the phenotype caused by another. Here is a classic example I stole from another website at the university of Georgia. It covers coat color in.
Labrador retrievers. One locus, the B locus, controls the color of the pigment eumelanin. Eumelanin can be either brown in color (bb) or black BB or Bb.
Another gene, known as the "E" locus (for extensor…never mind) is needed to deposit eumelanin in the fur of the dog. It encodes a protein called MC1R and where it is expressed determines whether the eumelanin gets into the fur. The ee homozygote does not deposit eumelanin at all in the fur while Ee or EE do.
Thus, if the dog is ee, it will be yellow no matter whether it makes black or brown melanin. All the possibilities on the 4x4 matrix are shown below.

Epistasis