000" : the Easy Way to learn Horse Colors
Genetics is an incredibly complicated science.
But you only
need to grasp a simplified concept of genetics
in order to understand horse colors. This
simplified concept of genetics is easy to learn.
A Little Background:
Most people have heard of cells.
Most living creatures are made up of small units called cells.
The smallest of these creatures only consist of one solitary cell,
but creatures like humans and horses are made of of millions, or
billions, of cells. They are so small that a microscope is
needed to see them.
Each cell takes on the characteristics it needs to become the part of the body it makes up.
Our brains are made up of brain cells; our livers are made up of
liver cells; etc. Even our bones are made of bone
cells! These all come into existence as the result of the
original fertilized cell dividing, over and over, into more and more
cells. So... how does each cell know what to become?
Here is a picture of an imaginary cell, "magnified" to make some
of its parts visible to the naked eye. The dark line around it
represents the cell membrane, which holds it together.
The yellow shape
represents the nucleus of the cell. This can
be broadly compared to the head of a body; it's "command central".
The brown shapes in the
cell represent some of the
various structures that we're not going to study, because
they don't apply to horse color.
The genetic material that we need to learn about, to understand
horse colors, is contained in the nucleus of every cell.
Cells grow and reproduce according to
that are embedded inside them. The blueprints are made up of
proteins, and those proteins are arranged in incredibly long
strings, which spend most of their time "crumpled up" into tiny X
shapes called chromosomes.
The "X" shapes inside the nucleus (see drawing above) represent
Squashed into each chromosome are
incredibly long strings of protein-blueprint-commands, arranged in
pairs. To grasp this, we can imagine that they look something
like this, but much longer:
You don't need to memorize all of the above. Just remember this summary:
The "blueprint commands" for how the
parts of a mammal develop
are arranged in
PAIRS, which we call GENES.
Pairs of Genes
Genes exist in pairs because mammals, such as horses (and
humans), need two sexes
-- male & female -- to reproduce.
When horses (and humans) reproduce, the X-shaped chromosomes unravel
in the cells used for reproduction, and split in half to form the
sperm (in a stallion) or egg (in a mare) cells. Thus, each parent gives half of its
"string of commands" to the foal (baby):
... and when the half-strings join together to
make a new foal (or baby), the result is PAIRS of GENES again, or
This is how each
parent horse gives their foal half
of its genetic material, or
The foal will always
half of its dam's genes,
and half of its sire's genes.
The chains don't split
neatly down the middle, like those pictures, above, though;
the pairs (almost always) split independently from each other.
The process might be better imagined like this:
gets one gene at each location from each parent,
ending up with two at each location.
[Note to those
knowledgeable in genetics:
I've adopted the common usage of "gene" instead of "allele"
extremely simplified presentation.]
Each pair of genes
determines one characteristic, or trait.
Each cell of the new
foal, from the fertilized egg until the foal matures and dies,
its directions from these blueprints.
Q. If the foal's
blueprints for every single trait come from the genes from both parents, how does it decide
which parent to
A. You've probably heard
the terms "dominant" and "recessive". This is how order is
made of possible contradiction, and it is explained below.
Sometimes the directions
from the mare and the stallion for a characteristic are
identical. In that case,
there is no question that the foal will have that
characteristic. There is no conflict.
IDENTICAL genes in a
pair is called being HOMOZYGOUS for the trait
(HOMO means same; ZYGOUS refers to the fertilized egg.)
where we learn the most important part of the equation: when the
directions from each parent are DIFFERENT, the cell has to be able
to tell which blueprint to follow. (See how, below.)
DIFFERENT directions for a
trait are called HETEROZYGOUS
(HETERO means other.)
Extra credit: say
"HO-mo-ZY-gus" and "HET-erro-ZY-gus"
Here is a diagram to
help us picture homozygous and
where the pair is like identical twins,
are represented by the two ovals in a pair
being the same color (circled in blue).
where the two genes in the pair are different from each other,
are represented by the two ovals in a pair being
(circled in fuchsia).
When there are two
different genes in a pair :
the gene/blueprint that gets
the blueprint that gets
Dominant genes are written in upper case:
Cr, D, Ch, Z, etc.
Recessive genes are written in lower case of the SAME LETTER:
e, a, cr,
ch, d, ch, z, etc.
The same letters are
always used at the same location, that is, within a pair;
variations are shown by upper or lower case,
or by adding superscript to the same letters (Aa, aa, AAt)
Note: The dominant gene is always written before the recessive gene,
no matter which parent it comes from, such as Ee or Aa
(eE or aA, for
example, are not used)
Coming up next: looking at ONE
ACTUAL PAIR of our imaginary string of genes. We'll start by
studying the pair of genes that controls PIGMENT.
This first specific pair
of genes we'll
study will be the pair of genes that determine what
is in the horse's hair. (We've just chosen any old pair for
this imaginary picture. The good news is that we don't need
to know WHERE on the string the pair is located in order to know
how they work ! )
To continue learning simplified Horse Color genetics,
please click Pigment.