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Genetics Functions, Traits & Examples | What are Inherited Traits?

Amanda Robb, Greg Chin
  • Author
    Amanda Robb

    Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

  • Instructor
    Greg Chin
Understand what genetics are. Learn and discuss genetic traits, selection, genes, genotypes, phenotypes, heritable traits, chromosomes, genomes, and alleles. Updated: 02/04/2022

Table of Contents



Genetics is the study of genes and DNA. Although genetics has expanded to include many advances in technology over the years, the study of genetics can be traced back to the father of genetics, Gregor Mendel. Gregor Mendel was an Austrian monk in the 1800s who studied the inheritance of traits in pea plants. At that time, no one knew what the hereditary material of living things was, and much of heredity was unknown. Today, the study of genetics has expanded far beyond simply understanding the structure of DNA and includes the regulation of gene transcription, expression, and its application in many human diseases.

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  • 0:02 Genetic Selection
  • 0:44 Genotype and Phenotype
  • 2:32 Heritable Traits
  • 3:09 Chromosomes and the Genome
  • 4:53 Genetic Differences
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Genetic Selection

Mendel studied pea plants because they were easy to grow, could be mated with control, and their features were easily distinguished. Mendel crossed different pea plants with meticulous accuracy and noted how certain traits were inherited. He tracked the inheritance of seven different traits:

  • flower color (purple or white)
  • flower position (axil or terminal)
  • pod color (yellow or green)
  • pod shape (inflated or constricted)
  • seed color (yellow or green)
  • seed shape (round or wrinkled)
  • stem length (long or short)

By observing the inheritance of these traits, he noticed that one trait usually dominated or covered up another. In this way, he described the first known inheritance pattern in genetics of dominant and recessive traits. Around the same time in the early 1800s, another scientist was also studying genetics but from a different perspective. Charles Darwin was a British naturalist who studied how traits were passed on and changed in populations over many generations. Charles Darwin observed that organisms that were better fit for their environment survived and reproduced better and thus, passed on their traits; this is now known as natural selection. This changed the physical traits of the next generation. Although it was still not known that DNA was the hereditary material of genetic inheritance, these observations created the foundation for his theories of natural selection and evolution. Although selection is not the same as genetics, it is a force that can shape the genetics of a population.

Inherited Genetic Traits and Heritable Traits

As Darwin and Mendel observed, inherited traits were an important aspect of heredity. What are inherited traits? Inherited traits are traits that are able to be passed down through generations because they are coded for in the DNA. Inherited traits can also be called heritable traits because they are part of heredity. What is heredity? The hereditary meaning is the passing of traits from one generation to the next. Genetics is also known as the study of heredity because it looks at DNA, which is how traits are heritable.

Traits can be influenced both by genetics and the environment. Hair color is a heredity example, but it can also be changed by physical actions of dying the hair. If a person dyes their hair, that does not change the DNA, and thus, the new color of the hair will not be passed on. Some additional inherited traits examples include:

  • Skin color
  • Height
  • Coat or feather color
  • Ability to resist disease or pests
  • Differences in protein function

Inherited traits are not only the physical traits that can be seem. They are also found in the small differences in protein sequences that might allow for differences in resistance to infectious disease or other physiological functions of the cell.


Inherited traits are passed down through chromosomes. A chromosome is a linear segment of DNA that contains many genes. There are two main types of chromosomes, sex chromosomes and body chromosomes. Sex chromosomes have many genes but specifically contain genes for primary and secondary sex characteristics. Body chromosomes, also called autosomes, contain genes necessary for all other aspects of physiology. The specific location on a chromosome is called a locus. Scientists use different loci in order to describe where certain genes are on a chromosome.

Humans have two copies of each chromosome, called diploid. The two corresponding copies of a chromosome are called homologous. Chromosomes that are not part of a set are called non-homologous.


A gene is a section of DNA that codes for a particular protein. Genes are made of DNA. DNA is a molecule that is made from individual monomers called nucleotides. Each nucleotide has a sugar, phosphate, and base group. There are four possible bases:

  • Adenine
  • Guanine
  • Cytosine
  • Thymine

DNA is shaped like a double helix and has two strands twisted together. The sugar and phosphate molecules face outward forming the edge of DNA and the bases face inward. Two bases match up and pair together, forming a base pair. The order of the bases holds the information in DNA and thus, is what is read in a gene to create a protein.

Structure of DNA

DNA structure

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of genetic inheritance?

The types of genetic inheritance are:

  • Dominant and recessive
  • Sex linked (Y-linked and X-linked)
  • Incomplete dominance
  • Co-dominance
  • Polygenic
  • Mitochondrial

Genetic inheritance is the pattern by which genes are expressed and how they are passed down from parent to offspring.

Where does genetic inheritance come from?

Genetic inheritance comes from our DNA. Genetic inheritance is the process of passing down our DNA from parent to offspring.

What is an example of genetic inheritance?

An example of genetic inheritance is skin color. Skin color is a genetic trait coded for by three genes, each of which have two alleles. The more dominant alleles a person inherits, the darker their skin tone will be due to the production of the protein melanin.

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