What is a Linkage Group?

In order to define linkage groups or specifically define linkage in biology, one has to understand that genes are located on the chromosomes. These genes can be specific markers that are located on the chromosomes. These also result in certain phenotypes i.e. physical characteristics such as long, short, round, rough, etc. 

These genes, according to Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance, are typically known to assort independently of each other. But some of the phenotypes are known to be combined together as they appear in the species along with one another. This is due to the genetic linkage in which the tendency of the DNA sequences of genes is to be close together and thus leading to the inheritance of the groups of genes occurring together. These clubbed genes that are situated very close together on a chromosome are known as linkage groups.


Concept of Linkage Group

Linkage group is the group of genes that follow the concept of the genetic linkage which is a tendency of the DNA sequences of the genes which are situated very close together on the chromosome and are inherited together during the meiosis phase of the sexual mode of reproduction

When two or more genetic markers are present physically near to each other on a chromosome and are highly unlikely to be separated on different chromatids when there is chromosomal crossover while the cell is undergoing meiosis cell division, they are said to be linked together with one another. This concept is used to define linkage in biology and answers the question - what is a linkage group? 


Linkage Group in Biology

As per the concept that is used to define linkage in biology, a linkage group is the set of all genes present on a single chromosome. Because of their location, they are inherited together as a group. 

Due to this, while the cell is undergoing cell division, these sets of genes that define what is a linkage group, move together as a single unit rather than moving as independent and different entities. This is in contrast to Mendel’s law of inheritance which also describes the law of independent assortment. The law of independent assortment states that the genes and their alleles representing different traits or phenotypes are passed independently of one another while moving from one generation to the next. 

However, the discovery of linkage groups clarified the reason why certain traits are usually seen to be inherited together. This work provided proof of concept that genes are physical structures that are related by a unit of physical distance. 

This unit of physical distance is centimorgans (cm). A distance of 1 cm is said to be the separation of two different markers per 100 meiotic product or 50 meiosis cycle. These linkage groups and linkage concepts are used to construct linkage maps that show the relative distances between two markers. 


Linkage Maps and Linkage Analysis

A linkage map is also known as a genetic map. Such a map is a tabular representation of a species or experimental population which states that the position of the known genes or genetic markers is relative to each other in the terms of frequency of recombination instead of a specific physical distance along each of the chromosomes. One of the first such linkage maps to be developed was prepared using the linkage group in drosophila. A linkage map is prepared on the basis of the frequencies of the recombination event between two or more markers during the crossing over of the homologous chromosomes. 

Based on the concepts that define linkage in biology, there is a method of linkage analysis that is used to search for the segments of chromosomes that usually segregate together with a specific phenotype through the generations of the same family. Linkage analysis can also be used to determine the linkage maps in cases of both the binary and quantitative traits. But there are certain limitations to the method of linkage analysis. 

Although the linkage analysis has been successful in identifying genetic variants in human beings, via the different number of linkage groups in humans, that are the cause of rare disorders like Huntington’s disease, it has failed itself when it is applied for more common disorders like the heart disease and different forms of cancer. An explanation for this sort of occurrence is that the genetic mechanisms that play part in common disorders are different from the mechanisms that play a role in rare disorders. 


Common Example of Linkage Groups - Sex Linkage

Sexual phenotypes or sexual characteristics are one prominent example that can be used to state linkage and linkage groups. This concept of sex linkage can explain the linkage group in human male and female and provide explanations for the characteristics to be transferred and carried as linkage groups. Sex linkage is the concept in which certain characteristics or phenotypes can be linked to one sex. The complete set of genes of the X-chromosome is carried together in both human beings and Drosophila flies while the Y-chromosomes carry only a few genes together. Hence, the linkage group in human male is relatively small as compared to the linkage group in human females. 

It is well-established that the eggs of the female carry the X-chromosome and the sperm cells may carry either X-chromosome or Y-chromosome. When an egg carrying an X-chromosome is fertilized by a sperm carrying another X-chromosome a female is born, and when an egg is fertilized by the sperm carrying a Y-chromosome a male is born. Hence, in a child carrying XY chromosome pair, any phenotype or trait that is carried by the X-chromosome will be expressed unless and until a corresponding allele is present on the Y-chromosome. 

Examples of sex-linked traits in males that follow the linkage group in human male are red and green colour blindness and haemophilia. This is because the phenotypes are controlled by the genes present on the X-chromosome and have a higher frequency of occurrence in males than females because of the absence of a corresponding allele on the Y-chromosome. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. How Do You Find Linkage Groups?

Ans: All the genes that are present together and are located on a single and same chromosome form a linkage group. Thus, a set of genes that are present together and are passed on together from one generation to the next, after undergoing meiotic cell division in the sexual mode of reproduction from a group known as the linkage group. Hence, the total number of possible linkage groups in an organism is the total haploid number of chromosomes present in the organism. This means that the possible linkage groups in an organism correspond to the total number of chromosome pairs present in an individual. 

Q2. How Many Linkage Groups Do Humans Have?

Ans: The set of all the genes that are present together and are located on a single chromosome form a linkage group. So one can find out the total number of possible linkage groups in an organism by knowing the total number of chromosome pairs present in an individual. Hence, in general, humans have 24 (23 autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes), possible linkage groups which are the same as the 24 chromosome pairs.